Audi's Maybach fighter gets the green light

Audi's Maybach fighter gets the green light


Audi has been rumored to offer an even more luxurious A8 for a few years, but the announcement this week has officially cemented such plans.

Audi has revealed plans to create a luxury sedan positioned above the A8, designed to take on the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class and other ultra-luxury machines. The automaker made the announcement in a low-key manner, as part of a message from the board of management to its shareholders, in addition to sketching out other strategic and financial plans for the near future, which will also include plug-in hybrid versions of the A6, A7 and A8.

“At its annual general meeting, the company is announcing the future expansion of the A8 model family to include a new, especially luxurious and prestigious derivative,” Audi said.

The A8 has been Ingolstadt’s largest four-door sedan since it debuted in 1994, replacing the V8 model that spent a relatively short amount of time on the assembly line. The all-aluminum A8 that debuted in 1994, code-named D2, stretched the Audi brand upward while showcasing Audi’s technical prowess. Offered in short- and long-wheelbase form, the A8 offered Quattro all-wheel drive, a luxurious and well-constructed interior as well as plenty of power, spawning the S8 models a couple of years after its debut. But the first-gen model struggled to make a dent against BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class sales — it only appeared in the U.S. in 1997, recording just a couple of thousand sales per year. The second-generation A8 arrived in 2003, offering an even larger footprint and a more luxurious interior; the third-gen A8 arrived in 2011, once again offering a visually quiet exterior and a range of engines stretching from a V6 to a W12. Audi’s fourth-generation A8 debuted in 2017 and went on sale in the U.S. about a year later, but a big chunk of A8 sales for the past decade have been in China, where Audi has experienced tremendous growth.

While A8 sales have grown with every generation, thanks to a boom in a number of overseas markets, Audi has not offered an ultra-luxury personal limousine version of the flagship aside from a brief experiment with the V8L in the early 1990s. Coachbuilders have also shied away from stretched versions of the sedan, due to the complexity of working with aluminum. But rumors of an even more luxurious version of the car have circled around Ingolstadt from time to time.

What are the driving forces behind the decision? In short: China, Mercedes-Maybach and the promise of greater profit margins, which are needed to finance the wave of electric models by a number of VW Group brands.

“In order to finance its high upfront expenditure, Audi will systematically utilize available earnings potential, for example by expanding its market position in the upper premium segments,” the automaker noted. “Together with the Lamborghini brand, Audi’s new top-end models already accounted for a significantly higher proportion of the Audi Group’s revenue in the first quarter of 2019. The new plug-in hybrid models in the Audi A6, A7 and A8 series will soon further expand the full-size range.”

A Mercedes-Maybach competitor holds the promise of being offered for twice the price of the standard versions of the sedan, while China has shown a great appetite for German cars that are meant to be chauffeur-driven, even keeping the VW Phaeton alive for over a decade after it left many other markets, including the U.S.

Audi hasn’t disclosed how such a model will stand apart from the current sedan or when it would be launched, but given the fact that the A8 is still relatively fresh, we could expect to see it relatively soon and to be based heavily on the existing model. It is unlikely that Audi would wait until the next generation of the A8 to launch such a model.

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