Audi balances performance with new 'green' offerings in U.S.

NEW YORK, March 27 Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:30pm EDT

NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG's luxury Audi brand is bringing its first plug-in hybrid, the A3 Sportback e-tron, to the United States in 2014 as part of its strategy to narrow the sales gap with its German rivals, according to its top U.S. executive.

Audi is also beefing up its performance stable later this year with new S and RS editions of current sedan, convertible and crossover models, Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America, told Reuters on the sidelines of the New York auto show.

The luxury brand is broadening its U.S. product portfolio to catch up to its German competitors BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Over the next year Audi will offer smaller models, including a compact crossover, more diesels, and more performance-oriented variants, Keogh said.

Among the most significant of its upcoming U.S. launches is the 2015 A3 sedan, which will target the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz CLA when it arrives in early 2014.

The 2015 A3 Sportback e-tron will follow "deep in 2014," Keogh said. Audi also is looking at bringing in an even smaller European model, the A1, but hasn't set a target date for its U.S. introduction.

"We think there might be an opportunity" for a smaller, more economical Audi, Keogh said.

Audi next year also will introduce its third crossover, the compact Q3, and is considering whether to offer the high-performance RSQ3 variant that was unveiled recently at the Geneva show, he said.

Just above the Q3, Audi this fall will add the SQ5, a hotter 350-horsepower version of the mid-size Q5 crossover. The next-generation Q5, Keogh said, is due from Audi's new Mexican plant in 2016.

On the car side, Audi will soon unveil the RS5 convertible, followed this fall by the RS7, a large sedan with a sporty coupe-like roofline.

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