Quattro. Aluminum bodies. TDi. Super-low-drag sedans. Audi had a habit of introducing world-beating engineering innovation. That gave the world the Ur-Quattro and A2 and R8. But then it sort of…stopped. And turned into a brand that was more about beautifully crafted cabins and slick marketing.
A year ago, a new boss, Marcus Duesmann, arrived from BMW. Hes not just the bosshes got specific charge of R&D, too. And now, when Top Gear asks him whether Audi will be a technology leader again, hes clear: Design is important to our customers, but Vorsprung Durch Technik (advantage through engineering) is still our slogan. We have decided to bring technology back to the lead.
The first example he gives is Project Artemis. He personally is in charge of this development team thats very independent of the rest of the VW Group. The first car to be launched off the Artemis project is an Audi, followed by a Bentley and a Porsche. He says: Its a battery car with a new on-board network and Level 4 autonomous driving.
Its due in 2024, though when pressed by Top Gear, Duesmann admits autonomous driving is very hard, and might not be available at the cars launch: The whole world is struggling with this.
But will the Artemis cars match Teslas software? Thats the objective, he says. Tesla has in some areas set standards for new technology. We observe them. But already with the e-Tron GT, we have our interior quality and our dealer service.
He also mentions the separate project, led by the VW brand, called Trinity: That will use Artemis technology for cars that sell in higher numbers, two years later.
Hes a busy man. He also sits at the head of the VW Groups software organization. Thats thousands of engineers designing in-house code for the power electronics, control systems, comms and self-driving in the Group cars. Up to now, different external suppliers did that work, and there were glitches where different branches of the software interfaced. Which delayed the ID.3a spectacularly expensive mistake.
Hes speaking after the reveal of the e-Tron GT. Hows it different from its twin, the Porsche Taycan? Its a GT car, not as sporty as the Porsche. It suits Audi customers, he responds. And you can decide which design you preferthats subjective.
Okay, well Audi has the e-Tron, the e-Tron Sportback, and the new e-Tron GTand soon the Q4 and its Sportback version. It will be adding the Artemis car, and presumably tapping into the Trinity family ,too. Thats a lot of electric cars. Will it have to kill existing models to make space in the factories and dealerships?
We make purpose-built EVs, Duesmann replies.  In other words, Audi wont sell cars that have either engines or battery drive. Theyll be one or the other. So certainly, well cut back on our ICE portfolio in the next 10 years.
At which point he more or less swings the axe on his companys smallest car: We do question the A1. Were still discussing what we do for small cars. Well certainly offer the Q2.
PHOTO BY TopGear.com
Then another bombshell, one that cheers us up a lot: I liked the A2 (pictured above). Maybe we should do a new A2maybe electric, maybe call it E2. He points out that electric drive allows for radical space-efficient body shapes.
The e-Tron GT is made on the same production line as the R8. So why not make the third-generation R8 an electric car, too? That wasnt the original idea, he says. But it could make sense. We could do it if we wanted to.
All in then, theres plenty of scope for Vorsprung Durch Technik.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.