"Essentially, the name Audi Sport positions an enterprise already used to become better-recognized by the public and sets itself up to grow as a result."
BMW has its M performance subsidiary. Mercedes-Benz has AMG. So what does Audi have? Some would say "nothing," a few would answer "Quattro," while many others would respond to that by saying, "Don't be stupid, Quattro's their all-wheel drive system."
Well, it is, but Quattro GmbH is also the name of the company that has been tasked with creating Audi's highest performance cars, plus special-order customization, customer racing, and the Audi Collection of merchandise. Trouble is, nobody really knew that, as it was in no way a public-facing brand. That all changes with the entity now rechristened as Audi Sport. It doesn't stop there.
"We wanted to have recognition for the R8 and RS models on a broad level," said Filip Brabec, vice president of product development. Audi Sport allows those models to be more easily identified as something different and special, much as AMG models are. "It's not just a piece of marketing material, but it'll also be recognized at a dealership."
Around half of Audi dealers in the United States have signed up to be Audi Sport dealers, granting them unique training, access to track events and signage. The dealer buildings themselves will have special areas devoted to Audi Sport.
So essentially, the name Audi Sport positions an enterprise already in use to become better-recognized by the public and sets itself up to grow as a result. But be it called Quattro GmbH or Audi Sport, what is it that they exactly do?
Besides the R8, which it completely developed and manufactures, all its RS models are done in concert with Audi AG. Yet, that "done in concert" process has changed a bit over the years and head of Audi Sport product development Stefan Reil has been there from the RS cars' beginning 19 years ago.
"When we started, our cars were launched in the last one or two years of the base Audi cars," Reil said. "We started development when the base cars were already in development or on the road. Now we have a much closer interaction with the people at Audi AG. Even when they start the concept work for the new car, we are right there in that process."
In the beginning, his small team would work on developing one car, finish it, and then move onto the next. Now, his much larger team is running multiple projects at the same time. The result is a portfolio that includes the existing R8 and RS7, plus this year's added RS3 and RS5.
The process for building the cars themselves has changed quite a bit as well. "With our first projects, the RS4 in 2000 and RS6 in 2002, we got from the standard assembly line A4s and A6s that were, I call them, '75-percent' cars. So there was some assembly work to do in the engine compartment, there wasn't any plastic exterior parts – the bumpers were missing. The car would come to our facility and in 15-20 hours we would bring it from 75 percent to 100.
"Of course, when you go into higher volume and have a wider portfolio, and from cost aspects, that's not the way it should be done."
As a result, today's RS models roll down the same assembly line as their plebian siblings. Audi Sport invests in modifying the existing factory to accommodate its cars, builds the appropriate special parts and manages the logistics of getting them to where they need to be at the right time in the assembly process. Audi Sport engines are also built in Audi's same mega engine factory in Hungary. Most roll off the same assembly lines as every other engine, although the R8's V10 and the RS3's inline-5 are produced by a single worker.
Audi Sport manages the Audi Exclusive line of customization in a similar way for those models eligible for the program – Audi Sport or not. Let's say you want an A8 with pink leather to match your favorite nail polish.
"We will organize the complete process," Reil explains. "We will organize the tinting of the leather, we will build the seats, the door covers, the armrest, everything you want to have in that special leather color. These parts are built by the supplier and we organize the logistic process so that your special parts are delivered to the point in the assembly line where they are built on the car."
Doing so keeps costs down and assures the same quality as any other vehicle rolling down the line. "For the employee at the assembly line who mounts the seat in the car, it's no matter if the seat is red, yellow, or black, they have to tighten the screw and that's it. There's no deviation in the process."
And now there will be less deviation in the work the company does and the public actually recognizing it.