For premium and luxury carmakers, the brand is a crucial element in the success of their business. It is what differentiates their products (and services) from their competitors in the marketplace. Thus brand building, though essential for virtually every company in every industry, is especially important for those selling to customers in the upper part of the market. Millions are spent in this area to impress, attract and retain customers around the world.

In Singapore this week, Audi has been presenting its biggest brand showcase ever in the region – the Audi Brand Experience Singapore 2018. The event, which doesn’t focus on the past but looks at today and tomorrow, highlights the company’s largest product offensive with the new A8, A6, A7 Sportback, Q8 and e-tron.

The venue at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre has some 100 vehicles over more than 8,000 square metres of floor space. While the event serves to preview new models for the Singapore market (and some other markets in the region), it is also an opportunity for Audi to show off its innovations to the general public who pay the equivalent of RM42 for a ticket to enter.

One of the highlights of the event is the Audi driving showcase where 30 cars are driven across a 20 x 20-metre floor with LED lighting that produces stunning effects and a huge wall projection. It’s similar to a fashion show except that the models have four wheels instead of two legs. The showcase hall seats up to 500 people who get insights into the brand and the technology in the latest products.

Among the cars showcased is the e-tron, Audi’s first all-electric SUV which will go on sale in Singapore next year. It was only recently unveiled in San Francisco and visitors to the event in Singapore are among the first in the world to see the actual car close-up. Given the size of the country and usage patterns, the 400-km range for the e-tron is ideal for Singapore and it can even be driven some distance north into Malaysia, perhaps to Melaka (about 240 kms) where the battery pack can be ‘refilled’ to full in a few hours for the return journey so as to avoid ‘range anxiety’.

Audi is also considering offering the e-tron (pictured above) in Malaysia but needs to study the infrastructure first. Its previous ‘electrified’ model, the A6 Hybrid, sold well when it was available, largely because it was duty-free for a short while. But it was a hybrid so recharging issues were not so critical; the e-tron is completely electric and how soon more electric cars can be sold in Malaysia is largely dependent on public confidence in the network of recharging stations. Of course, prices will also have to be reasonable and without any incentives for lower retail prices, sales will remain limited.

Besides the e-tron, there is also the all-new A8 flagship, A6, A7 Sportback and Q8, all of which will soon go on sale in the region’s various markets. A broad range of RS models also show the sportier side of the brand and visitors who feel the need for speed could either go outside and test-drive the cars or show off their skills at the simulators – which have Audi models of course.

Electrification is a big part of the Audi of tomorrow and so are autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves. On display is the Aicon concept car (shown below) which is a futuristic sedan that has Level 5 autonomy – the highest level which requires no attention from the occupants at all from the start of the journey to the end. The car will be able to perform in a comparable manner to having a human at the steering wheel. That’s something which will be way in the future as roads and public systems need to be advanced but the Aicon shows what to expect.

Audi Elaine can drive by itself and appears on the stage with no driver on board.

Another Audi concept car on display is the Elaine, also having autonomous capabilities but at Level 4. The ability of the car to operate on its own is still quite advanced and can handle most safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. But it still requires some human attention as it may not be able to safely cope with every scenario, eg going off the highway and along kampung trails.

An extreme e-tron is also on display in the form of the e-tron Vision Gran Turismo. The PlayStation people had invited carmakers to create supercars for its Gran Turismo range in the videogame and Audi not only developed a car but also fully engineered it as a functional car that could be driven on racetracks. The e-tron Vision Gran Turismo is the first concept car of its range to be deployed to real-world circuits and appears at various Formula E venues to give guests a vivid impression of the future of electric mobility.

The little ones also have a mini Audi Brand Experience and who knows, the experience may make them want to own an Audi when they are adults.

The brand experience is not just about cars but also about what owning an Audi is all about. At the event, visitors will be immersed in the Audi world where various privileges can be enjoyed. For those who want to experience an Audi before buying, there’s Audi On Demand which was introduced in Singapore earlier this year. This is a car-rental service with a difference and is a collaboration between Audi Singapore and its dealer. Various latest models can be rented for 4 hours for S$76 (about RM230) and more, and customers can even have a concierge deliver the car to them wherever they are. It’s an interesting idea which other premium carmakers are probably watching now.

Events such as the Audi Brand Experience in Singapore are obviously very expensive but are not intended to be sales events where immediate returns are expected. They are long-term investments that help enhance the brand image and give the public a better idea of what an Audi owner enjoys and how the brand differentiates itself from others.

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[Chips Yap]

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