Does the Audi urban Concept Hint at Future Plans to Dust off NSU Brand for City Vehicles?
by, 08-10-2011 at 04:17 PM (11886 Views)
We've stumbled across an interesting idea today that is making us sit up and take notice, partially because it's a very interesting concept and partially because we've wanted Audi to do this for years. As most read yesterday, Ingolstadt plans to show off a super light and super efficient city car dubbed 'Audi urban concept' at September's Frankfurt Motor Show.
The idea of super efficient and green-minded personal transportation has been a big fixation for all of the German luxury marques. Be it BMW planning to sell scooters under the MINI badge, i3 and i8 concepts under the blue roundel, or Mercedes Smart experiment that's been selling quirky microcars for years, the trend to tailor a product for city dwellers is obvious.
Thus far, there's been no official word from Audi for anything but Audi branding on the urban concept, but we've seen a few mentions of NSU associated with this little electric automobile since it first popped up on our radar yesterday.
To be honest, wishful thinkers have been hoping the Volkswagen Group might consider a modern day interpretation of the NSU TTS (pictured at top) and put it on the new small mid-engine matrix planned for the production VW Bluesport and so-called Porsche 550 project. Knowing that Audi plans to keep the TT and TTS monikers for its own coupe, we highly doubt this... but the idea of an Audi sub-brand under the NSU badge is one we can get our heads around... though it remains to be seen if Audi management agrees. Still, we actually had this very discussion with Audi design chief Stefan Sielaff over dinner back in the winter of 2009 while in Detroit and we're pretty sure that sharing his response from back then might shed some light on the question.
First, in the interest of full disclosure, Sielaff didn't raise the idea of NSU in the conversation. We did. He listened politely and offered some input. We'll summarize both below.
For those that don't know, NSU is a brand with an interesting heritage that spans production of bicycles, mopeds, motor scooters to rival Vespa in coolness, motorcycles, motorcycle racing and small efficient cars like the aforementioned Prinz-based TT and TTS as well as alternative powerplant rotary-engined cars such as the Wankel Spider (above) and the quirky 70's era Ro80 sedan.
An Audi veteran, it was understood that Sielaff knew all of this already, so he was primed for the pitch. As he turned the discussion toward the challenge of making cars for a new generation of people who live in a more urban environment and grow up looking as much to their computers as a tool for achieving independence as they might look at a car. Conceptualizing where personal transportation goes in the future is thus the challenge for designers and forward thinkers like Sielaff in his position at Audi.
As a way to move forward, we pulled out that three-letter name from Audi's past. NSU could represent a new approach to urban and alternative fuel transportation for Audi and one that could branch from the Audi brand. Imagine a city-based NSU brand store selling NSU bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, small cars, a segway style devices... really any device that might act as personal transportation and get a city-dweller from point A to point B. Market it with brand gear much like Harley Davidson does and build a brand presence much like that of Apple, with a unique experience that centers around these company stores. Unlike MINI or Smart, NSU has the heritage of having played in this space that encompasses a wide array of personal transportation. That heritage is an excellent foundation.
The idea was interesting to Sielaff, but he had a number of reservations. The most important, the most challenging and perhaps the most telling as those of us theorize on the validity of an NSU brand in the future is this. Sielaff pointed out that there is still a lack of awareness of just what the NSU brand is. Those in the know remember, but that group isn't as broad as those who harkened back to the MINI. There's no equivalent to the 'Italian Job' movie to help NSU's icon status. There's no archaic NSU from another era still being sold up until a modern relaunch as there was with MINI. The understanding here is that the ties back to the NSU brand are not as strong.
Then again, this may not be a bad thing. Less ties to the immediate past mean a cleaner slate on which to start. NSU has the cool factor with the Prinz TT and TTS. It has the technology cred from its push with Rotary before Rotary became more mainstream under Mazda. It has real cred and real heritage in performance niches such as Moto GP racing.
Also, that night we responded to Sielaff that Audi might maintain a more obvious tie between the Audi brand and the NSU brand as compared to MINI that doesn't outwardly promote its BMW parent at all. Putting four rings somewhere on the car, subtly to tie a line back to the Audi brand would add more credibility and progressive style and technology panache. And though NSU wasn't one of the original Auto Union brands, those brands under the Auto Union umbrella all wore the four rings in some way to help establish a family identity. Might this old practice also be successful in the future?
If Sielaff knew of any plans for NSU, he didn't share them or even hint at them over dinner. He expressed that the idea was interesting but never let on that he was anything other than skeptical of its possible success. Yes, this final recount may still end in a question mark, but it also gives you an idea of what challenges and questions any internal proponents of NSU may have faced had they made the pitch for the brand.
So what do you think? Should Audi launch city projects under its own brand? Should it branch out with a sub-brand like NSU? And either way it goes, what sorts of products should it sell? Cars? Motorcycles? Bikes? Scooters? Segways?
We'd love to hear your thoughts.