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Oliver Hoffmann, Board Member for Technical Development at AUDI AG, looks back on 50 years of “Vorsprung durch Technik”, an eventful past explains how the slogan translates in the new age of mobility.
Mr. Hoffmann, Audi is celebrating half a century of “Vorsprung durch Technik.” Many of the last 50 years’ defining moments came from the department that is now your area of responsibility. In retrospect, which do you think was the most decisive?
For me, quattro technology was the all-important milestone. Because it not only drove our rally successes, but also epitomizes the transfer of insights from racing to series production. quattro has been synonymous with Audi ever since. The launch of the first Audi A8 with Audi Space Frame technology in 1994 was similarly momentous in that it finally cemented our status as a premium brand.
When Audi dominated rallying for a period in the 1980s with the S1, the slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik” was already a good ten years old. What do you see as its origins?
For starters, I want to emphasize that, then as now, “Vorsprung durch Technik” has always been much more than a slogan for us. Instead, it encapsulates the Audi mindset. Fifty years ago, we breathed life into “Vorsprung durch Technik” for the first time with the Audi 80 – a model with an impressive engine and lightweight technology.
Speaking of motorsport, in the heat of competition, it’s easy to see who has the edge that progress gives. How important was and is motorsport for the “Vorsprung durch Technik” philosophy?
I’m a big motorsport fan. I love going to the circuit and getting caught up in the action. But that’s not the only reason I’m passionate about it. Racing can be a kind of test lab under extreme conditions where we draw inspiration for new ideas and components. This was true of the quattro drive and hybrids at various 24-hour championships in the past – and it is not going to change.
How can your average Audi customer experience “Vorsprung durch Technik”?
The utterly distinctive DNA of our cars ensures that customers enjoy it to the fullest. That’s why I launched the “Audi DNA” project, which involves taking a deep dive into technical details, such as steering angle requirements or vehicle acoustics. We aim to establish a clear definition of what the experience of driving an Audi should feel like. By the way, in the event that highly automated driving becomes a reality one day, this will also be relevant.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the focus was often on technology, but soon design and aesthetics increasingly started to become a main focus. Is the pendulum swinging back toward technology again?
The way I see it, design–or the interplay between form and function – is only becoming more important than ever. After all, as our world and consequently our vehicles become increasingly digital, design, too, revolves around connecting with the digital world. In the process, vehicle interiors will continue to gain in importance going forward. With each new project, our Audi Design team rises to the challenge, proving that they constantly break new ground. It goes without saying that there’s also a technical side to “Vorsprung” or progress. In fact, for me the German word describes high-quality, innovative solutions that significantly improve everyday life – such as EV stations that when paired with the right infrastructure are capable of fast-charging at 270 kilowatts, intelligent lighting technology and lightweight construction using a material mix.
Transformation is a buzzword. Would you call half a century of “Vorsprung durch Technik” – and perpetual transformation – a great dress rehearsal for the future?
Our aim is and always was to be changemakers ourselves rather than being driven by change. So, in that respect, yes, 50 years of living and breathing “Vorsprung” is an advantage. Although it must be said that the changes underway, especially those in the automotive industry, are monumental.
How do you and the company as a whole respond?
For example, by reorganizing structures and processes and shortening development cycles. I personally set great store by tackling these things as a team. At Audi, we live and breathe passion and pioneering spirit. That means striving to perpetually question the status quo and never stop evolving.
Ultimately, the nature of those challenges also changes. Do you literally grow with those new tasks?
It’s true that the public’s interpretation of “Vorsprung” and the kind of progress they expect from us are constantly changing. More than ever before, that means making a responsible contribution to the future that puts people front and center.
Do you think it is harder nowadays or – given the new technological options – easier to achieve and extend “Vorsprung”?
It’s just different. We must develop new cars and services at the kind of pace our 21st-century digital society expects of us. Which is another way of saying development cycles are shorter. The innovation process starts with ideas, and those spring from the fertile minds of our more than 10,000 Technical Development employees. To translate “Vorsprung durch Technik” into a new age of mobility, we must harness this creative wellspring. Innovation management, which we are currently restructuring, is instrumental to this process.
How do you communicate and substantiate “Vorsprung” in the new age of mobility?
In mobility’s new age, we interpret “Vorsprung” as state-of-the-art engineering, design and digital experiences. In other words, we don’t just think in terms of vehicles. Looking ahead, our focus will increasingly be on end-to-end mobility solutions that also encompass the necessary infrastructure. That’s why one project under development is a fast-charging concept that meets the Audi brand’s standards in every way. The Audi charging hub which can be flexibly rolled out in different locations could cater to spikes in demand in the future. In pursuing “Vorsprung,” we aim to contribute to society’s development.
Do you see advancing electromobility as just such a contribution?
The shift toward electromobility is the most dramatic transformation our industry has ever seen. And it goes without saying that we’re aiming for best in class. To that end, we have been systematically expanding the scope of electrification at Audi and make use of all the Group’s currently available e-platforms. By 2025, we plan to offer more than 20 all-electric models.
One of those models is the Audi RS e-tron GT.
It’s not only the flagship for electric premium mobility at Audi but, to me, is also already iconic in that it distills 50 years of “Vorsprung durch Technik” expertise. If the Audi RS e-tron GT is the statement for tomorrow’s mobility that we believe it is, the future looks bright.
What does “Vorsprung'' mean to you personally?
For me, “Vorsprung” is always just a snapshot of a particular moment. That’s because “Vorsprung” means tirelessly searching for innovative new solutions. All the progress in the world is worthless unless you can maintain it.