Future Rides

I don’t drive the A4 much anymore. I am now officially out of the family hauler and commuter business. Also, Debby prefers her driving to mine and I don’t mind being chauffeured. Eventually, we will sensibly get an electric car for about town and a hybrid or diesel touring car. The latter would need a transmission with automatic shift mode, since Debby prefers no third pedal. I would want to shift it when it is my turn to drive. Probably, fuel cell cars will not be available during our driving lifetimes.

I am not sure what my next 20 years will bring, but the way things have been recently, Audi does not build a car for me anymore. It is not a problem with their manufacturing vision, but with their near term profit motive. Everywhere else in the world, Audi can still proudly exclaim Vorsprung durch Technik. But in the USA, the phrase rings hollow; they do not import the most functionally attractive of their models here. They import good cars here, but not great ones.

In the USA, Audi is importing mostly torque converter automatics and the largest gasoline engines in each engine class. Audi has us pegged as wastrels who demand huge vehicles and are very happy to continue settling for what we are used to. The Audi marketing department and its USA distribution arm has become so adept at catering to people who buy cars based on appearance and buzz that there is no need for them to cater to the smaller US clientele that appreciates value, light weight, subtleties, and nimbleness.

Typical of their disdain for Americans, their ads and online model descriptions never mention the available transmission. The message is obvious; Americans aren’t discerning enough to even care. They just plant the right foot and go. No need to confuse them with details.

And who can blame Audi, since they are selling here everything they can produce, based on a very limited set of drive train options. Further, we must recognize that the US certification process for new models makes it too hard for import manufacturers to qualify more than a couple of drive train configurations per model. We need the political will to change this restrictive, protective, anti-competitive environment.

Audi means no disrespect to Americans like me, I am sure. Yet it is hard not to take it somewhat personally. Some of us refuse to sell out. So I am looking for a new supplier. Thank you Audi, for 40 years of  memories.

Note that it is not only Audi who drags its heels on importing the most attractive drive train options to the USA. Nobody does. And we don’t build it here. So my next automotive supplier will be the first one that courts those few here who are hungry for alternatives. Their website will provide the first clue of the hoped-for sea change, via a means to quickly determine the mechanical  bona fides of the new vehicle without having to wade through offensive (dumb) bling-bling videos of their styles, advertising glosses, and personal electronic comfort/convenience doodads.

Perhaps such problems will be self-limiting. As the USA becomes an ever smaller slice of the world market, and nobody but us buys the generic out-sized products they now offer here, might not these generic choices disappear from the product line entirely. Also, the Audi arrogance toward USA customers might quickly change if the competition wakes up first and steals some of Audi’s customers. Above all, technology soon may render the problems moot.

I am no longer wedded to the third pedal. Debby’s Audi TT, prior to the Passat, had the S-tronic (DCT) tranny; I found I could lose the third pedal happily with that transmission, even though my patented 2-5 shift would no longer be possible. I now know our next cars will have neither a third pedal nor a torque converter, will have AWD for those icy and wet days in the Pacific northwest, and will get at least 35 mpg average.

Will it be an Audi? They are continuing to create problems for themselves by going for big bling (e.g. gaping bass-mouth front grille) to reach the young buyers who gravitate to edgy, aggressive (ugly) design. It will be a tough sell to get Debby involved in the purchase of a car that has that look. Yet that design flaw has been slightly softened in the 2014 previews, cutting the ugly factor considerably, so perhaps a sale could be made.

Who will be first to offer us high efficiency,  AWD, with no clutch pedal or torque converter. Offer me one before another supplier will, you will get my business. Audi comes close now with the A3 diesel, but AWD is not offered with that engine in the US. Its S4 is also close, but is not efficient and is priced $15K too dear.

Audi may bring us an A4 plugin-in hybrid with DCT and AWD around 2018. Price it fairly and I will buy. Mercedes and Porsche are also in this game, but priced way too dear, and too inefficient. Honda may be getting into the game as well, but execution and price will limit interest.

Update: Mercedes is closing in with the CLA 4-Matic at a competitive price, but it has too little interior room, does not compete on performance with Audi, and its finish and sophistication also trail Audi’s.

The specs for the 2017 A4 look promising, with DCT and AWD, although the sedan styling does not show much flair. It is said to do 0-100km/h in the mid 5 sec. range, and deliver fuel efficiency of 27mpg combined. The 2.0 diesel may also be imported within a year of introduction. While in appearance, it looks very similar to my 15 year old model, it improves on fuel efficiency by 4mpg, in acceleration to 60 by 1.5 sec, in handling (no understeer), in nimbleness (400 lbs lighter), and in interior room.

It seems once every decade or so, the rest of us can get lucky. Occasionally, Audi or their competitors may slip up and inadvertently throw us a crumb, in the form of a truly great car that is also a great value. The more discerning customers of imports just need patience. And patience may be its own reward. Think of how much money we save by only being courted on average every fifth refresh cycle.

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