How can you determine quality in…the motorcar?

Understanding ‘quality’ is as much to do with information provided, as it is a sensory issue, and journalist, Iain Robertson, looks at several aspects of the attribute.

Despite using proprietary group underpinnings and hardware, one of the best examples of mainstream automotive ‘quality’ is Audi. Yet, it is fascinating that even non-cognoscenti will comment on the ’VW-ness’ of an Audi interior, which does beg the question…which is the more potent brand, VW (the parent), or Audi?

It is not exactly a fact that Audi uses any better quality fixings, fittings, or furniture within its extensive model range, nor is parent company, Volkswagen, any less quality conscious. In fact, it has built a reputation for its slavish attention to detail. Yet, the Audi brand does percolate to the surface, when underscoring the various aspects that constitute premium quality.

After all, sharing bed-space with Bentley, perhaps the brand cross-fertilisation has not done it any harm. As the first product to emerge from the Crewe firm, following the RR-Bentley sell-off, from which BMW ended up with Rolls-Royce, was the almost ubiquitous ‘Continental’, some minor comparisons are worth making. The VW Phaeton shared much of the advanced technology and even some detailing of its Bentley sister product, as a typical VW, multi-platform means to offset production overheads. VW did blur the vision somewhat with its slow-selling luxury model.

In-Spec Quality Assurance

Being in the position, on occasion, to carry out direct comparisons between VW and Audi models, it takes both a very keen eye and the most sensitive of fingers to differentiate between, let’s say, a Passat and an A4. While price is a determining factor and, without doubt, a higher tag for the Audi will do one of two things, either annoy intensely, or provide a psychological ‘lift’, there are other discernible elements.

Ford Motor Company has been trying without positive success to ‘do an Audi’ with some of its popular UK models. However, reintroducing a name from its stock cupboard, after many years of redundancy, ‘Vignale’, when it has already presented models under the ‘Ghia’ label, might be one of the least productive exercises that the US giant has carried out since launching the Edsel.

Just adding some alloy trim fillets and higher grade leather to the interior, as well as chroming the exterior and layering an additional lacquer coat to the paint finish, cannot really justify a price increase of several thousands of Pounds, when a well-polished mainstream C-Max, or Mondeo, looks virtually identical to its premium stable-mate. At least an A4 looks quite different to a Passat.

Deportment is an issue. Just like the educated young lady at the finishing school will be able to glide along a corridor, with a Websters Dictionary balanced perfectly on her head, a sense of adroitness must be imparted by the Audi. It should not be to the point at which its VW cousin looks ungainly but, rather, that some apparent effort has been expended to enhance its visual acuity and, thus, appeal. Wheels, suspension and ride height serve those purposes.

Separate design centres, albeit working from the same basic hymn sheet, are the means to achieving that balance. Where a slightly Dali-esque style might emerge from the Seat brand studios, with a more street-wise Banksy-style from Skoda, VW, with some minor diversions, is retaining its Bauhaus influences, while Audi has adopted a more ‘Huf Haus’ characteristic. The architectural references are not a mistake, as they also involve ingenuity of design, which goes far deeper than the surface suggests.

While tactility is one of the most important aspects of a quality presentation, appealing to both head and heart and creating not only a motivational but also sometimes illogical series of thought processes, it is also the sensory competence around which a company like ISQA has been able to build its business. The VW Group has been able to differentiate, with more than a modicum of success, the touch and responsive feel of all its models and how they are stitched together, from the most basic Seat and Skoda, through VW and Audi, all the way to Bentley and even its sporting marques, such as Lamborghini and Bugatti.

Blindfold somebody and ask them to assess the quite varied models by touch alone and Audi comes out very close to Bentley. It is a fascinating scenario, even though in appearance terms, several of the individual brands come very close to near replication. As far as smell is concerned, it used to be relatively easy to detect models from Spain and the Czech Republic, due to the esters emitted by their adhesives and plastic mouldings, although even that has become more difficult, when Spanish Seats and Czech Skodas are built in other developed countries. Crack open an Audi and it is the essence of finest Nappa hide that will greet the nasal receptors…just as will a Bentley, although the assault lasts significantly longer.

Finally, it is the amount of promotional spend attributed to the individual brands that spurs a positive response. When you look at the advertising for Dacia, product expectations are not high. Yet, the promotional sophistication applied to Audi does possess the psychological effect of raising its image markedly above that of Volkswagen and its other Germanic rivals. Helped undoubtedly by the well-imagined ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ tag-line (which can mean almost whatever you presume it to mean but actually means very little at all), British post-WW2 perceptions of Germany altered to a point at which that nation assumed an altogether higher ethos and Audi has been central to that process for more than 30 years.

Quality Assurance, as practised by ISQA, is as vital to the Audi brand as any of the elements that constitute the brand’s existence. It is exercised prior to production and comprehensively throughout the production processes, with the end result being an indefatigable and irrefutable banner of high quality that everyone wants to experience. Whether manufacturing rocking horses, electric motors, computer keyboards, or boxes of crackers, the same quality rules apply and ISQA possesses the expertise to make them work efficaciously in any environment. You see, quality is the be all and end all.

‘Make Quality Count!’

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