As if gaining more than 20 per cent growth so far this year was not enough, German carmaker Audi has also acquired greater market share in the Middle East, Jeff Mannering will have you know. While he does not actually name them, Audi's gains have been at the expense of its immediate competition, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
"The premium automotive market in the region is growing, but certainly not in double digits," said Mannering, managing director of Audi Middle East. "It certainly has not been an exploding market.
"Up to August, in the ‘core premium' where Audi competes with the other German marques, volumes were up 7 per cent, but in the "standard premium" which includes models from some of the Japanese manufacturers, the numbers were up only 0.5 per cent.
"Out of that we are growing at 24 per cent and anyone can clearly see the brand is driving this end of the market. And that means conquering market share from the other brands."
Besides continuing its strong run in the UAE, the marque is gaining some welcome traction among Saudi car buyers. "We have closed the gap with the competition and will probably finish with the highest sales ever in a year," Mannering added.
"The Q5 and the Q7 continue to be sold out almost every month and it's been like that for a couple of years." In the year to September, the brand sold more than 5,000 units with the UAE accounting for 2,245 units and Saudi Arabia 1,043 units.
Going by market projections, the premium category provided some relief in what has been a topsy-turvy year for the wider car market. If the outbreak of the Arab Spring acted as a speed-breaker in the first three months, tighter financing requirements in the UAE from May led to a significant stall in sales.
There was no way Audi could have manoeuvred itself completely out of the regional situation. "The Arab Spring did not have a direct effect, but what it did was create a cautious market," said Mannering.
"I would not be able to put a percentage on it, but even in the markets where we were affected, particularly Bahrain and Oman, the business did not stop completely. There were times when the dealerships had restricted working hours due to the situation, but never for a full day.
"On our part we still managed to deliver cars."
Another market — Iraq — was added to the regional coverage late last year. "With our franchise in Arbil it was not about selling hundreds of cars, but there's definitely a market there for premium cars," the head of Audi Middle East said.
At the upcoming Dubai Motor Show, a new model will come off the ramps, which Mannering believes will create a more rounded model line-up in the region. Already, "The market in the GCC is SUV and sedan driven and our best-performing are the Q7 and Q5," he said. "Our big sedans — the A6, which was released in June, and the new A8 — are performing well."
"In the next ten years Audi will spend $2.5 billion (Dh9.17 billion) in new products and I still think there is room for more models. For instance, one category where we don't have a model in the GCC is the sports SUV." But how well is the A1, which is the entry into the Audi range, performing? "Well, we could always sell more of these cars and I would definitely love to sell 100,000 of them," Mannering said.
"It' a little different in Europe because of the environmental impact and the way the governments are pushing small engine regulations. But the A1 is a big image builder for us as an introduction to the brand for the young and the hip-hop crowd."
Sure, the new generation of automobile showrooms in the Middle East has gone for the futuristic look. But even by those exalted standards, Audi's new showroom in the making in Dubai raises the bar… literally.
Set to open within the next 12 to 18 months, the showroom on Shaikh Zayed Road will spread across four levels and showcase as many as 70 models at a time.
"It will be the world's largest car showroom based on the Audi Terminal Architecture," said Jeff Mannering, who heads the carmaker's regional operations. "We want our cars and people working in a premium environment."
The first of the Audi Terminals in the region opened in Saudi Arabia's Al Khobar in April.
And will a time come when Audi can move ahead of its German competition? "Our corporate strategy clearly says the brand needs to be the No. 1 premium auto brand by 2020.
"You can look at it anyway you want, but we need to be selling as much as the competition. It just doesn't mean we will be selling more cars - the important thing is to keep the customer with the brand."