* New Huracan model is precursor to Audi R8
* Has pioneering chassis technology, telemetry system
* R8 boosts Audi's U.S. pricing power vs BMW, Mercedes
* Audi, Lamborghini devise new sportscar platform
By Andreas Cremer
BERLIN, April 17 Lamborghini is flaunting a
technology-packed supercar at this week's Beijing auto show that
will spice up its parent company Audi's own offerings just as
the second-biggest luxury carmaker struggles to prove its
Audi has little to show this year opposite BMW's
new "i" series of electric cars or Mercedes' spate of
redesigned models and company sources have said overhauls of the
brand's top-selling A4 saloon and Q7 SUV will be delayed until
Some analysts even say that, while German rivals are pushing
new technologies and designs, Audi risks looking like a laggard
in an industry where innovation is key.
Technical advances by its Italian subsidiary may help Audi
regain the initiative.
The new Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4, which attracted over
1,000 buyers within two months of taking orders, "is at least
ten times more intelligent" than the Gallardo, the brand's
all-time best-seller and predecessor, its top engineer said.
The 14,022 Gallardos assembled between 2003 and 2013
represent about half of the company's all-time production.
Sant'Agata Bolognese, Italy-based Lamborghini has been
prospering since being bought by Audi in 1998. It sold twice as
many cars in the past decade as it did in the previous 40 years,
is pushing plans for an SUV and still has waiting times of more
than 12 months for the 300,000-euro ($414,500) Aventador three
years after its launch, R&D chief Maurizio Reggiani told
The Huracan breaks new ground with a pioneering hybrid
chassis of carbon fibre and aluminium jointly developed by Audi
and its sister brand. The new technology will make the chassis
10 percent lighter than the Gallardo's aluminium-based framework
despite making the car 50 percent more torsionally rigid.
The Huracan's second highlight is an advanced telemetry
system developed for the aerospace industry that delivers data
on how the 610-horsepower model is performing. The information
is used to improve the car's steering in real time.
"It's our job to achieve every time a bigger jump in
technology," Reggiani said in an interview. "We must be able to
surprise everyone with a car that completely changes the game."
As Audi's own parent company Volkswagen (VW)
keeps pushing commonality - the proportion of parts that can be
shared among different models - a lot of what makes the Huracan
so enticing will also feature in a 2015 overhaul of Audi's
top-of-the-line R8 supercar, Audi's R&D boss Ulrich Hackenberg
said at last month's Geneva auto show.
The Huracan's hybrid chassis is derived from a new adaptable
platform devised by Audi and Lamborghini under the label MSS, or
modular sportscar system, two sources at Audi said.
The underpinnings are made at Audi's Neckarsulm plant in
Germany and final assembly of the 169,500-euro Huracan takes
place at Lamborghini's facility in northern Italy.
Four models, the coupe and roadster versions of
Lamborghini's Huracan and Audi's R8, will be designed around MSS
as their base, sources said.
"High-tech applications are often more expensive and more
risky," Boston Consulting Group senior partner Nikolaus Lang
told Reuters. "Modular production helps carmakers to spread the
high development costs, for instance from using new materials
(like carbon fibre), over larger volumes."
VW's modular platforms have become the central tool to the
German group's strategy to surpass Toyota as the
world's No. 1 carmaker, allowing it to engineer and build a wide
variety of vehicle sizes and shapes for specific markets at
In 2012, VW launched the MQB architecture for as many as 4
million cars and Audi is now upgrading a platform dubbed MLB
that underpins larger models also from VW and Porsche.
Hackenberg, who also coordinates product development across
the VW group, said the Huracan will be a "milestone" for
Lamborghini. It may also prove a boon to the parent.
Since its 2006 launch, the mid-engine R8 has polished Audi's
overall appeal and helped the brand increase the price customers
are willing to pay for Audis in the United States, the biggest
market for luxury autos.
Audi's average selling price in the U.S. has surged by
almost a fifth since the R8 arrived to $51,798 in 2013, compared
with a 6.3 percent gain at BMW and a 2.5 percent decline at
Mercedes, according to U.S. automotive website Edmunds.com.
First-quarter data from Edmunds.com showed Audi's U.S.
prices at a record $52,472, a tad more than $52,259 for BMW
which sells twice as many cars in the U.S. Mercedes tops the
ranks at $57,139.
Back at Lamborghini, Chief Executive Stefan Winkelmann
expects the Huracan to exceed the 1,800 peak sales of the
Gallardo next year on demand from the United States and China,
its two biggest markets, and a rebound in Europe.
"It's easy on the road and absolutely able to perform on the
race track - it will redefine the super-sportscar driving
experience," the CEO said.
($1 = 0.7238 Euros)
(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)