Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Audi of America Inc. is on track to eclipse the 100,000-unit mark in annual sales this year, but of the brand’s top markets, the U.S. ranks a surprising fourth behind the U.K.

“We definitely have more potential in the U.S.,” Audi AG management-board member Peter Schwarzenbauer concedes here on the sidelines of the L.A. Auto Show.

Through October, the U.K., with a population of 62 million, chalked up 88,682 deliveries for Audi. The U.S. and its market of 310 million people: 81,718.

Schwarzenbauer explains the disparity by noting how Audi’s global repositioning strategy was introduced. “We started much earlier in the U.K.,” he tells Ward’s.

Audi’s goal is to become the world’s leading premium brand.

During a presentation to journalists, Schwarzenbauer is surrounded on Audi’s show stand by sleek, performance-oriented vehicles such as the R8 sports car and the new, coupe-like A7 4-door hatchback.

But behind him is a screen that depicts the boxy styling for which Audi was known during the 1980s.

He admits the images beg the question, “What was I thinking?”

Audi expects the U.K. to hang on to third place among its top markets this year.

The U.S. eventually will pass the U.K. in sales, but “it won’t happen overnight,” Schwarzenbauer says.

Audi’s top markets are China and Germany, ranking first and second, respectively. China recorded 192,000 sales through October, compared with Germany’s tally of 181,000, the auto maker says.

A 100,000-unit year for the U.S. would mark a 17.3% gain over like-2009’s 82,716, and an increase of nearly 20%, compared with 2000’s 80,372 deliveries, according to Ward’s data. Twenty years ago, Audi’s U.S. sales languished at 21,106, and the brand last flirted with 100,000 in 2007, when it delivered 93,000 vehicles.

Italy rounds out Audi’s top five markets through October with 50,182 sales.

Playing to the crowd, Schwarzenbauer says California – if considered on its own – generates enough volume to rank among Audi’s top 10 global markets. Through October, its tally of more than 15,000 deliveries would have been good enough for ninth place.

Audi’s goal is to sell 1.5 million vehicles worldwide by 2015. Schwarzenbauer pegs the U.S. portion of that target in the range of 170,000.