Audi will push top-end cars in effort to catch BMW

SHANGHAI Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:56am EDT

1 of 2. People look at Audi cars during the 15th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in Shanghai April 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Audi (VOWG_p.DE) will speed up launches of high-performance cars such as the 107,900-euro ($141,100) RS6 Avant estate to boost profit as the German brand tries to narrow the gap with luxury-market leader BMW (BMWG.DE).

Audi, which lags BMW and German rival Mercedes (DAIGn.DE) in pricing power, will start selling top-of-the-range RS models two years after the base model's launch, sales chief Luca de Meo told Reuters at the Shanghai auto show.

Volkswagen-owned Audi previously took about four years to bring RS vehicles to market.

RS models, which have all-wheel drive and bigger engines, sell for higher prices and help increase the appeal of the brand's vehicle range. The 560-horsepower RS6 Avant, due to hit showrooms this summer, costs about three times the 177-horsepower base model's price.

"There is very much potential around the world for sporty and dynamic cars," de Meo said in an interview on Saturday.

Audi, which accounted for almost half of VW group's 11.5 billion euros in profit last year, will roll out a record four RS models in 2013 - the RS6 Avant, RS5 convertible, RS Q3 SUV and the RS7 Sportback - as last year's record 1.4 million deliveries have boosted the brand's core customer base, de Meo said.

Accelerating the rollout of RS models will also help Audi to improve the cars' resale values, de Meo, said.

Higher resale values help carmakers offer smaller monthly lease payments as the cost depends on the projected resale value when the contract ends.

($1 = 0.7644 euros)

(Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Erica Billingham)