MIAMI – Audi AG expects A8 sales to climb when the third-generation of the flagship luxury car hits the market next fall, but “we’re not chasing volume,” says Johan de Nysschen, president of the German auto maker’s American operations.

“We want this car parked in the right driveways,” he says here at an unveiling of the top-of-the-line Audi that will debut as an ’11 model. “Volume will go up, but the quality of business is paramount.”

The price goes up, too. A typically equipped A8 costs $82,000 today. The impending model will cost more, but Audi has yet to say how much.

In the 12 years it has been available in the U.S., the A8’s best sales year was 2004 with 6,000 units delivered. Audi expects to sell 3,500 units this year and reach sales of 5,000 when the new model goes on sale.

Audi expects the overall U.S. premium car market to hit 1.1 million units. The luxury division of Volkswagen AG is looking to capture about 8% of that.

Audi expects to finish this year with sales of 81,000, compared with 86,000 last year. But de Nysschen says that’s not so bad considering the import luxury-car market saw a 25% decline.

As the brand’s flagship, the A8 “means a great deal to us,” says Rupert Stadler, chairman of Audi’s management board. “It is the very essence of our brand. We created a car that is truly extraordinary.”

Globally, Audi will launch the new A8 with three engine choices, including two TDI versions.

The most powerful engine is a 4.2L V-8 with 376 hp and 15% greater fuel efficiency. Other powertrains, such as hybrid-electric and diesel variants, eventually will arrive in the U.S.

“A hybrid is a definite go,” de Nysschen says. “And I can imagine a world when we offer diesel engines in all our cars.”

Like its predecessors, the new A8 features an aluminum body that’s harder to fabricate but 40% lighter than steel. Despite the inherent metal-stamping issues with aluminum, Audi has reached a precision of 0.10 of a millimeter, Stadler says.

Other highlights of the new car include an adaptive air suspension, enhanced navigation system, a plush cabin with 36,500 upholstery stitches and light-emitting diode lighting for both interior ambience and greater headlight range.

The new vehicle and the effort Audi put into it demonstrates the auto maker’s commitment to the U.S. market, de Nysschen says.

To tap into American lifestyles and cull customer information during the A8’s development, several Audi staffers from Germany virtually lived with five American families.

“The relationship to space and size is different here than in the U.S.,” Audi head of design Stefan Sielaff says.

Much of the new A8’s world premiere focused on its design.

The idea of a car as an art form is at least 80 years old, but Audi gave it a modern twist, unveiling the A8 at an art facility and inviting “Design Miami” leaders to talk about the essence and importance of art in general and car designing in particular.

Audi says it went for a powerful, elegant and sporting look in designing the new A8. “Art and design are related to each other,” says Sielaff. “There is a balance between aesthetics and technical importance.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com