SINGAPORE — Markus Schuster is right where he wants to be. The new managing director of Audi Singapore took up his post here in July, but has thought about living in our part of the world for much longer. “I think it was 15 years ago that I came over here for the first time,” he says, in perfect English.
Having toured Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, he’s likely seen more of the region than most people living in it have.
“I love this concentration of different cultures and also the way people live,” he says. “It’s always been a dream to come to Southeast Asia to work.”
Being posted here was no accident. In Germany, where he was running Audi’s sizeable pre-owned cars business, Mr Schuster put out word with HR and sales departments that he would be open to an overseas posting. When Audi Singapore’s out-going boss Jeff Mannering took up the top job at Audi in South Korea, Mr Schuster was offering his place. “I didn’t hesitate for a second,” he tells us. How’s that for career advice: if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Having settled in — he says the first thing you learn here is that “COE” stands for “certificate of entitlement”, and after you go on to take on board a plethora of abbreviations — Mr Schuster says his main aims are to strengthen the Audi brand and to burnish its relationship with the people who buy its cars. “That for me is the most important thing, because you can always try to sell cars and try to be technically advanced, but your product has to be received well by the customers,” he says. “For that you have to have a special relationship customers and not just a manufacturer-customer relationship.”
That being the case, you’re highly likely to spot Mr Schuster among Audi drivers in one of the roughly 50 events that the brand organises as part of its myAudi World privilege program every year. He’s been on a breakfast drive to Malaysia, has met customers who’ve owned their 10th Audi, and joined members on a private tour of the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition at Marina Bay Sands.
“It’s all these different kinds of experiences that we want to offer to our customers, which you actually you can’t buy. That makes it special, so for me that has has been a great experience so far,” he says.
Yet, proximity to customers can be a double-edged sword. Mr Schuster’s observations of Singapore’s Audi drivers is that they can be highly emotional about the brand, and forthright about those feelings. “They will give you very direct feedback and they will tell you if there’s something that they love about the car, but they will also tell you if there’s something that is not perfect,” he says. “I have lots of customers who connect with me on LinkedIn and then write to me because either they have problems that they need support with, or they have suggestions that they just want to drop.”
Mr Schuster says the feedback he gets can be insightful, while criticism is usually constructive, so making himself available at that level of intimacy so far hasn’t been a problem.
If anything, customer interaction could intensify if Audi’s sales figures go the way Mr Schuster expects here. A diminishing COE Quota means the motor industry will collectively sell fewer cars next year, but he is confident the brand will grab a bigger slice of the shrinking pie and end up with more on its plate. Audi put 1,672 cars on the road in the first eight months 2019, after selling 2,941 in all of 2018.
Mr Schuster thinks there will be an upswing in 2020. Audi is in the middle of a product offensive, with key new models on the way.
The A1 Sportback (above), a compact hatchback that Audi is launching on November 27, will provide a new rung on the brand’s price ladder and open it up to a wider population of drivers.
The Q3, a newly-introduced sport utility vehicle, has been selling well so far, which bodes well for the Sportback version that is aimed at style-conscious buyers. Then there is the e-tron, the brand’s first battery electric vehicle (BEV). “People are always interested in innovation and in the newest product, and so we’re very confident that even though the total market might come down a bit, that we’re still going to be able to grow the business next year,” Mr Schuster says.
The e-tron (above) might not be a volume seller — no BEV has managed to sell in significant numbers here — but Mr Schuster sees it as an important model, as much for its significance as the first electric Audi as for its role as a sort of tech hero that will be good for the brand.
“At the moment, in the whole automotive industry we’re in a huge transformation process and I would really like to kickstart that transformation process for Audi in Singapore,” he says. “With the introduction of the e-tron… I think that is a great chance to basically supercharge the brand Audi, and also take a position as really the most advanced and most progressive brand.”
Having found himself where he wants to be, Mr Schuster has a clear idea of where he wants Audi to be.