's Audi brand said last week it would unveil a "revolutionary
concept car" at next month's Los Angeles Auto Show that would
open "new perspectives in automotive design."
Audi released the teaser photo you see above, along with a
statement noting that this is the first concept car created under
Audi's new design chief, Marc Lichte, Officially, we don't know
much more than that.
Unofficially, industry sources say this concept car could be a
thinly veiled preview of an all new Audi super-sedan, the A9,
which could arrive in showrooms in 2017.
Why would Audi want an A9?
Audi already has a big, opulent sedan: the A8, which in fully
loaded top-of-the-line trim is priced close to $160,000 in the
U.S. Why does it need an even bigger and more expensive
Here's the short answer: Because super-sized luxury sedans are
shaping up to be the next global luxury-car battleground, and
Audi wants its share of the action.
Luxury makers are battling for a growing group of well-heeled
customers all over the world, but particularly in fast-growing
markets such as China. That battle has been raging up and down
the price spectrum: Sales of compact luxury crossovers have
boomed recently, for instance, thanks in large part to affluent
young professionals in China (and elsewhere).
Now the luxury-auto makers are giving more attention to the
very top of their markets, where buyers can be exceptionally
demanding but the profits can be big, and the prestige of a
successful entry can pay big benefits for the brands.
Buyers who want something more than an S-Class, but not a
For years, the biggest and most expensive mainstream luxury cars
have been the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the
7 Series, and the Audi A8 -- a market segment of three. Buyers
wanting something more were invited to look at brands including
Rolls-Royce (owned by BMW) or Bentley (owned by VW Group).
But even the "entry-level" Rolls-Royce sedan, the Ghost,
starts at over $250,000. Clearly there's some room between a
loaded A8 and a "bargain" Rolls -- and with an increasing number
of wealthy buyers around the world looking for something "more,"
Audi isn't the only luxury maker looking to fill that gap.
BMW's Future Vision Luxury concept car is thought to be a
preview of an upcoming 9 Series. Source: BMW.
In April, BMW showed off its "Future Vision Luxury" concept
car, a huge high-tech sedan thought to be a preview of a
future 9 Series
. Significantly, BMW's concept was shown in Beijing, where sales
of luxury vehicles have boomed over the last few years.
Mercedes -- which, unlike its German rivals, doesn't currently
have a separate ultra-expensive sedan brand -- is also believed
to be planning a super-sized, super-opulent version of its
hot-selling (by six-figure sedan standards, anyway) S-Class
sedan, to be called the S600 Pullman. Price?
About $1 million
And it's not just the German automakers who are thinking along
The U.S. and Japan are jumping in as well
' Cadillac brand has confirmed that it will unveil its
long-awaited "flagship" sedan
, the CT6, sometime early next year. The CT6 is expected to be a
big, expensive rear-wheel-drive sedan loaded with high-tech
features -- a direct rival, in other words, to cars like
But it might not be Cadillac's "flagship" for long. In an
published earlier this month, new Cadillac President Johan de
Nysschen confirmed that an even bigger and more expensive
Cadillac sedan is in the works. It will be called the CT8 or CT9
and will compete with the biggest and longest Mercedes and BMW
sedans, he said.
Infiniti is hinting that a big luxury sedan along the lines of
its Q80 Inspiration concept car will come to market before long.
's Infiniti brand -- which de Nysschen led until leaving to join
Cadillac in August -- is also planning a "flagship" sedan. At the
Paris Motor Show earlier this month, Infiniti showed a concept
called the Q80 Inspiration, which is a big, high-tech sedan.
Given that Infiniti's current top-line sedan is called the
Q70, the Q80's name makes its intentions pretty clear.
Officially, it's a concept car, but Infiniti officials hinted
strongly that something like it will come to market before
A global battle for well-heeled buyers
This battle will be about profits, of course. By auto-industry
standards, the margins on these kinds of cars are huge. But it
will also be about prestige: Who will build the best, most
desired luxury sedan in the world?
Right now, if you ask many people globally, they'll tell you
Mercedes' S-Class holds that title. The S-Class, specifically the
way it is perceived, brings tremendous prestige to the
Mercedes-Benz brand, and that makes its other products seem more
, in turn, means Mercedes can ask (and get) higher prices for its
down-market products. BMW and Audi have built roughly similar
prestige (and profit margins) over time.
For the German brands, building an even-more-opulent sedan is
about preserving and enhancing that advantage. For Cadillac and
Infiniti, it's about raising themselves to that same level of
prestige -- in hopes that sales and stronger profit margins will
follow. And, of course, all of these brands are jockeying for
position in the fast-growing, still formative Chinese market.
For all of them, the stakes are much bigger than a few
thousand super-expensive sedans a year.
So who will win this new war? We won't know that until we see
the cars, and until we see how buyers respond to them. Stay
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Will the 2017 Audi A9 Start a Super-Sedan
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