Trevor Hill interview: Audi in the Middle East

Audi's Middle East on why he wants to make it the top luxury car brand in the Gulf
By Courtney Trenwith
Wed 23 Jan 2013 11:14 PM

Trevor Hill has already overseen 50 per cent growth in Audi car sales in three international markets and now the South African has his eyes set on the Middle East.

Audi’s new managing director for the region is confident he can steer the company towards becoming the number-one premium car brand in the Gulf.

The goal is bullish but Hill’s and Audi’s recent records show it may just be possible.

Audi nearly doubled its global car sales in the past decade, well above the total car sector and despite the disastrous economic downturn.

It was the strongest and fastest growing premium brand in the world last year. Sales increased in every market except debt-ridden Europe, which still remained relatively steady at -0.1 percent.

Middle East and Africa sales expanded by a whopping 16.4 percent compared to 6 percent growth across the global car market.

“That’s very good indicators for us for continuous growth in 2013,” Hall says.

By comparison, Porsche Middle East increased its sales 15 percent during the year and BMW said it recorded a 13 percent increase in the region in the first half, while its full-year results were not yet public.

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A record 9,155 Audis were sold in the Middle East last year, putting it a mere sixteen cars behind Porsche. It was the seventh year of record sales, excluding the global financial crisis impact in 2009 and 2010. But the company remains firmly on the accelerator, intent on smashing the 10,000 barrier for the first time this year and lifting the Middle East into the company’s top 20 markets.

From there, it aims to double sales in the region in just seven years to 20,000 cars.

That’s where Hill comes in. The South African has led massive sales growth in China – now the company’s top market – Germany and most recently Korea.

Since Hill left his mark, Audi has become the number-one sold car in China and Germany for the first time.

The high achiever, who played international hockey before joining Audi’s Johannesburg office 20 years ago, is unfamiliar with failing.

And he is confident of repeating his success in the Middle East, hoping to increase sales here by “at least” 50 per cent in what he expects to be a five-year tenure.

Hill tells Arabian Business that improving the “unsatisfactory” quality of sales service and procedures in the region was the first step towards domination.

“I want to focus on every single dealer in every single country in the region [to improve their] professionalism,” he says.

“The dealers have to bring up their quality level in terms of structures and policies.

“Dealers are not professional enough for my [liking]. It’s been very sales-focused in the past, just shifting out sales, sales, sales, [with] not that much quality.”

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The Middle East market could be finicky and customers, not particularly loyal, were quick to desert a brand over the slightest dissatisfaction, Hill says.

To help counteract this, he is planning to create quality management roles in every dealership.

“Customers here, if they don’t like you, they walk away,” he says. “They don’t even tell you they’re dissatisfied, they just walk away.

“That’s the worst thing for us; we need to know why customers don’t stay with us, then we can make changes.”

The Middle East is presently only the 21st largest market for Audi worldwide but it is a leader in the C and D segments, which include larger compact and entry-level luxury cars such as the Audi A8 and Q7.

Hill says while the rest of the world moved towards smaller, more economical diesel cars, Middle East drivers continued to demand “size, prestige and power”. V8 engines, eight cylinders and 300-500 hertz power were highly sought after.

Hill himself drives the luxury sports sedan Audi S8 – a high performance version of the Audi A8 often considered to be the first large luxury car.  

He believes the region’s unique market, as well as Dubai’s accessibility, climate, facilities, and growing appetite for Audis meant it was increasingly likely it would host the launch of one of the next luxury vehicles.

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As with most of the luxury car brands, the United Arab Emirates is by far the most important Audi market in the Middle East with 41 per cent of the region’s sales, followed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and Qatar.

Audi already has shown its faith in the region by opening its largest showroom in the world on Sheikh Zayed Road. More than 50 cars can be shown on the floor at one time.

A further seven new major projects are in the pipeline, including sales and service facilities in Fujairah, Sharjah and Muscat, sales offices in Abu Dhabi and Doha and a service facility and body shop in Dubai.

“This shows a real commitment to the brand and this shows a real commitment to our customers in the region,” Hall says.

By the end of the year, Audi will be able to service an impressive 67 of its cars in Dubai at any one time.

But the company’s growth could be stifled by a lack of auto technicians capable of maintaining and repairing its vehicles.

It says it needs to increase the number of expert technicians by more than 200 percent globally. It is also on a major recruitment drive for sales staff to fill its new showrooms.

Managing the residual value of second-hand Audis is also a major plank of Hill’s plan to improve the attractiveness of the brand.

The overall task will be by no means easy but for the 50-year-old who first visited Dubai in 1993 when Sheikh Zayed Road was a thin, four-lane highway, as long as there is a vision it can be achieved.

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