I received a cryptic email from a friend in Europe saying not to bother making the Atlantic crossing for the Paris debut of the new Audi R10 last December.
He didn't explain as to why, and from a photo angle, John Brooks was already tagged to go to Paris on behalf of the Sutton Agency, so at least there were those images available. However, I wanted to be there for the roll out. In this business we see product all the time and few leave a long lasting impressions. This was different. The R10 is real history, as it happens, and few realize that Audi's leap with the diesel is nothing less than a full-scale revolution in the motorsport ranks.
The choice of Paris for the initial roll out to select, and I do mean selected, members of the media was no accident. While no one dares to suggest there was malice, the sight of the R10 running a few laps around the Eiffel Tower was a slap-down at the automotive industry of France. It may not have had the History Channel effect of newsreel footage of the Wehrmacht marching down the Champs d'Elysee, but it was an invasion and Audi intends to occupy the Sarthe region of France for a long time to come. Americans who have long been used to cheap fuel costs have yet to connect to the thought of smooth and economical diesel power. Visions of stinking 240D taxicabs and semi trucks crowding the islands at gas stations are the standard view. Clinking, clanking collections of caliginous junk are the lasting impressions for the typical U.S. drivers of the legacy of one Rudy Diesel. Audi, ever mindful of these images, handled the launch of the R10 from both ends of the spectrum. Paris was the large canvas with full strokes of the brush, and Los Angeles was to be a preview of coming attractions.
Diesel power accounts for the majority of auto sales in Europe and the advances in diesel technology have been at quickening pace since the first Gulf War. Governments only too aware of interruptions of fuel supplies have encouraged more fuel efficient vehicles. Efficiency is one thing; having a car that you want to drive is something else. The choice of diesel power from the lowest priced tintop to a flagship cruiser such as the Audi A8 has made the option to the social classes all that much more acceptable. When the market is three-quarters diesel, it had better damned well be.
The Volkswagen Group, through its Audi and Bentley brands, has owned the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2000. As the clich goes, nothing else comes close. In the case of the R8, Audi rewrote all of the records in performance and reliability on the racetrack around the world. If Audi management can be faulted it is the decision to not offer the R8 to truly private teams. Each entry, whether in the U.K., U.S. or Japan, had a connection to the mother ship. Had Audi followed Porsche's lead with the 962 back in the '80s, there could have been some incredible battles as the action would have been far more unpredictable. That observation in no way diminishes what the R8 has accomplished and that record is shattering to comprehend at times.
For several years the talk of diesel-powered prototypes has been the vogue. I don't mean the small private efforts but a full-fledged factory-backed effort with the resources to pull it off. Peugeot was tagged as the favorite to lead such an effort as Renault was concentrating on Formula One, and it made sense for the French lion to promote the production side of business with a diesel assault on Le Mans. When Peugeot issued a statement that the firm would enter Le Mans for 2007 with a diesel, few were aware just how far Audi had proceeded with its own covert program. While Peugeot and its advisory board, PSA, were aware of the existence of the R10, the announced roll out in Paris was something of a surprise. PSA's vice president, Jean-Phillipe Peugeot, was candid when he stated that it will be difficult for Peugeot, as Audi will have a year of experience and that their chassis development goes back for six years.
Dateline Paris-there it sat on a cold winter morning. Seven time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen about to strap himself in to the car and run a few laps around a landmark of the city of light. A real running car and what of the perceived competition? No chassis as of yet, nor a running power plant.
Germany: 1; France: 0.
Every year the same question is asked. Why does the Detroit Auto Show matter? It's cold, the weather is lousy and January is a bad time to be on the east coast. Do the so-called Big Three still hold that much clout to keep thousands of people held hostage year after year? The Los Angeles Auto Show, on the other hand, is a curious affair. Backed by dealers and with a minimum of true manufacturer participation, it should be a more important (i.e., critical) show. It isn't, and it's difficult to understand why. A few scraps here and there are thrown in the way of new model launches; Porsche trotted out its Hey Man S and Omar Cayenne Turbo S as a business decision-California is a huge market for Stuttgart-but overall L.A. isn't Detroit. Who wants a woody outside covered with snow when an A4 cabriolet and girls in midriff tops, boots of Spanish leather and $200 designer jeans strutting their stuff are available?