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Audi: What a Difference a Decade Makes

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April car sale numbers are in: Audi outsold Mercedes and is nipping at the heels of BMW.

For those of us old enough to remember the Audi 5000 and the era of "unintended acceleration," the April numbers are nothing short of miraculous. For a brief time it looked like the Audi brand would fail all together in the US as tearful, telegenic folks described how they stepped on the brakes only to plow over mailboxes, yard ornaments and nearby trees. It was particularly sad for Audi because the 5000 was a revolutionary design which went on to sell millions of cars - for Ford, which copied it for the Taurus. There was never any proof that Audi cars had acceleration problems, but sales plummeted and despite successive innovations and excellent vehicles Audi was the also-ran of the European luxury segment in the US for years.

In the interim, BMW essentially stuck to its knitting with the 3, 5, and 7 Series sedans in various flavors and variants (despite the ridiculous iDrive system). Mercedes moved into so many model lines that they have used almost every letter in the alphabet and only those with doctoral degrees from Heidelberg can explain how they all differ. They do make some good cars but the ubiquitous C -Class has dragged down their brand image and there have been quality issues that would never occurred at the Daimler Benz of old.

Audi, however, has been churning out great cars all along without the fanfare that they probably deserved. Innovations in all-wheel drive, the first production aluminum sedan and various new technologies have led to the 4, 6, and 8 models. Audi interiors are always best in class and, short of the amazing finishes in the much more expensive Maserati Quatroporte, are the nicest that I have seen. During the '90s, these vehicles got good reviews but failed to capture the imagination of the American public. That was until the A4 rolled out in stunning sheet metal and wowed a generation of younger, affluent people.

Today, there are so many good models that it is hard to pick the best. The S8 is a beauty, the new S4 continues to impress and the R8 is amazing. I had the opportunity to drive one through China last summer. My blog tells the whole story but the short version is that the car was a joy to drive and every bit the equal of the more expensive Ferraris and Bugattis on the trip.

Audi still has work to do to gain the kind of market share in the US that they have abroad but there is no better recipe than lots of great models. Given the ones I have seen lately this will likely be Audi's decade.