Audi is going to fire its r&d chief, Wolfgang Duerheimer, just 10 months after he was hired for the post, a person privy with the matter told Reuters, confirming an earlier report by German magazine Spiegel. Duerheimer will be replaced by Volkswagen brand research chief Ulrich Hackenberg.
Duerheimer has become a target of criticism from Volkswagen Group executives who think the luxury brand is losing its surge momentum. While Audi’s marketing slogan reads “advancement through technology,” the brand has become a follower of technology trends that were, most of the time, set by current market leader BMW.
A senior VW group executive told Reuters that Audi has become too reliant on China. According to Ferdinand Dudenhoefer, head of Center Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Audi does not uncover new market segments and “too often borrows” VW group technology. He remarked that Audi’s sales slogan does not meet the requirements.
Hackenberg is considered as a close confidante to VW Group chief executive Martin Winterkorn. He also was with Winterkorn during the latter’s term as Audi brand chief between 2002 and 2007. Duerheimer was named as Audi’s r&d chief in September 2012 after his predecessor, Michael Dick, was booted out of the post following criticisms that Audi was losing its technology edge.
Duerheimer halted development of electric versions of the R8 sports car and the A1 hatchback at a time when rival BMW is getting ready to launch its i3 megacity electric car later this year. The i3's launch means Audi is now behind BMW on introducing alternative powertrain technologies that could drive future growth. The lightweight i3 also ends Audi’s role as a pioneer in lightweight construction, Dudenhoefer said while noting that Audi became the first luxury carmaker to introduce a model with a body made of aluminum.
Duerheimer commenced his automotive career at BMW in 1986. He then moved to Porsche where he became chief of research and development. At Porsche, he played a vital role in the rollout of the new Porsche Cayenne SUV and the Panamera sedan.
He then became the CEO of VW’s Bentley unit, becoming head of the brand in February 2011. His stint ended 19 months after.
In 2012, Duerheimer was tapped of technical development at Audi as part of a management reshuffle by VW. The move was aimed boosting Audi as it targets to surpass BMW and Mercedes-Benz in terms of global luxury car sales. Just like Bentley, the Audi premium brand is part of the VW Group, which treats Volkswagen AG as its parent entity.