Audi once was a true leader in automotive engineering. They were either among the first, or were the first to adopt a lot of new technologies, 5-cylinder petrol engines, 4wd in road cars, TDI engines, fully galvanized bodies, full aluminium bodies, you name it. So they came up with their slogan "Vorsprung durch Technik" (advantage through technology) which they use world wide. It helped them become the brand to be, so to speak. Their cars are selling like hot cakes, and everybody and their uncle likes Audis.
The question is: Can they still rightfully use that slogan, or have they dropped the ball lately. Toyota became the hybrid car market leader. GM and Opel reversed Toyota's layout and came up with an even better kind of hybrid, verdict is still out on that one. BMW's i3 with it's carbon-fiber/aluminum body will enter the market this year, and the i8 is currently in it's final stages of testing and will follow soon. Then there is Tesla, and numerous others, no need to mention them all here.
But what have the good folks at Audi been doing, besides basking in the sun of their success. Remember, Audi is still the new kid on the block, and having truly arrived as a serious competitor to BMW and Mercedes both in numbers and, maybe even more important, in the perception of millions of people world wide is no small feat.
On the technological front, the picture is a little different. They have been chasing their own tails for quite a while now. First, they didn't really want to have anything to do with Hybrids. Their current line-up of Hybrid cars reflect that. They are the epitome of "me too" products with no unique selling points whatsoever. Now they say that plug-in Hybrids are the thing of the future, but after several lost years, there isn't much in the pipelines to enter the market soon. Their e-tron prototypes stayed just that, prototypes.
Their A1 e-tron (first presented in 2010), had a petrol-electric setup like the Volts, Fiskers, and Teslas, and sported a little Wankel engine in the back. The Audi engineers mistrusted the Wankel in the end, and there never were more than a few dozens produced, which now have to do PR duty.
The R8 e-tron, which was due to hit the market last year, was unceremoniously cancelled. The few cars that ever saw the light of day are now busy hauling journalists' behinds around various tracks, but in the end remain a futile experiment.
Rumors are that next year, we'll see an A3 e-tron, sporting a Prius-style system mated to a 1.4 TFSI engine. Basically a fancy Prius for badge snobs, apparently even priced to compete with the Prius. Not exactly world leading in any way, shape or form.
So, is there anything technology wise, where Audi can rightfully claim to have "Vorsprung durch Technik", or should they just drop the act and go with the flow, like so many others?