In recent years, interest in electric cars has increased sharply which has led to a greater disruption and democratisation of the entire automotive value chain from bottom to top. Audi, one of the most valuable brands in premium automotive manufacturing, has once again proved itself a game-changer in the industry with the recent launch of the e-tron, Audi’s first all electric-car. Chairman Bram Schot shared with us in this exclusive interview the exciting things to look forward to with regards to their journey towards electrification and digitisation.
Good day, Chairman Schot! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Let’s start by giving us a glimpse of what your day looks like as a successful industry leader?
I start my day quite early, rising at 4:45 a.m. I don’t eat breakfast, so I’m on my way to the office at 5.30. My schedule is tightly packed, with a lot of appointments ranging from strategic discussions to operational issues. Therefore, it’s important to listen, stay focussed and in the moment. For me, that’s the best method to tackle the challenges of my job at Audi.
Having been appointed as Chairman of the Board of Management at AUDI AG, what excites you most about this role and what do you eagerly anticipate in terms of the company’s present and future endeavours?
The automotive industry as a whole is experiencing times of intensive change, transformation and disruption. At Audi, we are facing these challenges head-on: with our Audi Transformation Plan. The company is growing from a pure car manufacturer into a system provider for mobility, offering comprehensive solutions on the market. This encompasses much more than technological innovation – it manifests in the growing importance of all the business aspects of our trade. To master these changes successfully, we need to change within. We need to question our culture, our structures, our processes. Our company has the word “listen” already in its name. I, therefore, asked all Audi employees to take this literally: To listen to what our customers need and offer them the right solutions.
With your career mainly developed in the automotive sector, can you tell us the most significant development you’ve witnessed thus far?
The current shift from combustion towards electric engines definitely constitutes a landslide change for our industry. It already impacts the markets, the infrastructure and the way we produce and procure. Combined with the developments in the field of digitisation – from new connectivity options and shared mobility services to autonomous driving – this might mark one of the biggest changes in the automotive business since the invention of the assembly line.
When we say “Electric has gone Audi”, what do you want people to visualise? What are the unique features of your e-car that you pride yourself in?
Audi is a sporty premium brand. It is very important for us that our first all-electric production model is a true Audi: a premium SUV, fully electrified, sporty and absolutely suitable for everyday use. The Audi e-tron offers the driving experience of a new technological era. It is the perfect combination of efficiency, performance and comfort.
Furthermore, with the Audi e-tron, we offer our customers much more than just the car. We build a new ecosystem around it with premium digital services, like functions on demand, and a strong charging network. To put it in a nutshell: We merge the new world of electric mobility together with our over 100 years of experience in manufacturing premium cars.
What are the inspirations behind the design of your e-tron?
A clear design statement is one of the main sales arguments for customers in the premium segment. Therefore, the design of the Audi e-tron has been a crucial centerpiece in the development of our first electric car. Its features make it clearly recognisable as a fully electric model. Just one example: The Audi e-tron has a special focus on aerodynamics. One of my favorite visual and aerodynamic highlights is the virtual exterior mirrors – the first time on a production-vehicle. Our designers have translated the brand’s new design language for the electric age, both inside and out. And we’re just at the beginning: The Audi e-tron lays the groundwork for the generations of e-models yet to come.
What approaches do you take as a company towards the full realisation of your vision of emission-free mobility?
The Paris agreement on climate change is our guideline. Therefore we are working on emission-free mobility on a multitude of levels: Our Audi g-tron models can be filled up with the green fuel Audi e-gas that is produced using renewable energy sources. This process takes place in Audi’s own power-to-gas facility in Werlte in Lower Saxony, among other venues. Also, Volkswagen Group’s development centre for fuel cell technology is located at the Audi plant in Neckarsulm. The Audi h-tron quattro concept study is only one example for the company’s technology competence in fuel cell drive systems.
There’s much more to come on the electric side as well, of course: By 2025, Audi will offer twelve automobiles with all-electric drive in the most important markets worldwide and achieve roughly one-third of its sales with electrified models. We will significantly expand our offering of plug-in-hybrid automobiles as well. In the future, nearly every market segment will include models that are powered by a combination of an electric motor and an internal combustion engine and can be charged via a socket.
What are your views on the trends and future of electric cars? What is your assessment of the market readiness in terms of consumer acceptance and charging infrastructure?
We are looking at many different trends and developments around the world at the moment. Therefore, the future success of electric mobility and its consumer acceptance is closely linked to the question of charging and infrastructure. Audi is ready for electric mobility and is hitting the market with a comprehensive ecosystem. Our electric portfolio will cover every relevant market segment from the compact to the full-size class.
Audi has set another milestone in the history of premium car manufacturing with the introduction of your first fully electric car. How will Audi revolutionise autonomous mobility?
Audi is already offering its customers a wide range of driver assistence systems: Adaptive cruise assist, Audi parking and garage pilot or efficiency assist to name a few. Of course, we are already thinking strategically ahead: With the Audi Aicon design vision, we presented an autonomous Audi of the future – with no steering wheel or pedals. As a design concept, this study leaps ahead to show the exterior and interior design of the coming decades. As a technology demonstrator, it combines innovations relating to the drivetrain, suspension, digitalisation and sustainability in a visionary manner.
Since getting into the automotive space in 1909, Audi has come a long way. What are the new initiatives you are working on at the moment towards another chapter of Audi’s successful history in the luxury vehicle market?
Audi is changing from being a pure car manufacturer to becoming a system provider for mobility. Besides the electrification of our fleet, we are, therefore, working intensively on the development of new mobility services like “Audi on demand”. Also, the development towards autonomous driving is keeping our engineers occupied.
What are your most significant challenges? How do you strike a balance between the short-term and long-term growth?
Managing the transformation of our company is the most important goal for me at the moment. Short-term volatility can be a side-effect of such a transformation process. As long as we don’t lose sight of our long-term goals, we’re bound to succeed in the long-run.
As the world and businesses advance, there are changes in leadership style and focus. What do you think are the features of a remarkable leader today?
I’m rooting for a hands-on approach to leadership: Direct exchange and honest feedback are very important for me. I’m there for all Audi employees. Especially in challenging times such as ours we need a strong team mentality. It’s the key to future success. Its foundation, in turn, is based on Audi’s corporate values – appreciation, openness, responsibility and integrity.
Leaders atop a company naturally have a lot on their plate. What are your favourite routines to keep yourself focussed and healthy at and off work?
I am always trying to stay in the moment, to tackle the challenges ahead clearly focussed and without diversions. Also, sports like football and running help me to unwind and stay fit.
What does success mean to you? Any message you wish to share with our readers and the people behind Audi e-tron and the company’s milestones?
Success enables me to continue on, to do what I love and to work with the people I respect and admire. The successful launch of our Audi e-tron is the best example: For us, it’s the starting point of Audi’s journey towards electrification and digitisation.
What are the three things you will not leave home without?
My smartphone, the keys to my Audi e-tron and a cup of tea in my stomach.
Thank you very much, Chairman Schot. It was a great pleasure speaking with you.
About the Interviewee
Bram Schot has been Board of Management Member for Sales and Marketing at AUDI AG since September 2017. On June 19, 2018, he was additionally appointed Chairman on a temporary basis. On January 1, 2019, Bram Schot became Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, which includes Ducati, Lamborghini and Italdesign Giugiaro as well as the Audi brand. Temporarily, he is responsible for the area of Sales and Marketing. Prior to joining Audi, he was on the Board of Management of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles from 2012, and he was President and CEO of DaimlerChrysler/Mercedes-Benz Italia from 2006 to 2011, and President and CEO of DaimlerChrysler Nederland from 2003.