NOBEL Laureate poet Hermann Hesse provides inspiration for Markus Schuster as he ponders the issue of business continuity for the Audi brand in Singapore once the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Audi Singapore’s Managing Director recalls a line in Hesse’s poem about the stages of life, Stufen — ‘und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne‘ — which translates to ‘and there is magic in every beginning’.
To many, emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic is like a new beginning. As the global economy has slowed down and businesses fold under the stress of inactivity, what sort of world will we be carefully poking out heads out into when the circuit breaker ends?
While the global economy and societies have been thrust into this dark period in humanity’s time on the planet, the hope is that technology will help to keep the downtime as short as possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought most industries to a halt. The automotive industry is thus affected, and while some manufacturing plants have turned their tools to making medical equipment, others are waiting as the effects of the pandemic subside and governments allow businesses to resume cautiously.
This global time out has afforded many industries and economies the opportunity to evaluate how they have been operating and how they will need to review their business propositions when the switch for industry is turned on again.
How will the automotive industry drive into this new normal with social distancing and hyper sensitivity to contact as major concerns, all the while keeping an eye out for the next pandemic on the horizon?
“Times like these make you realise how important it is to have a strong foundation for your business to stand on during a crisis of such magnitude,” Schuster notes.
As one of the dozen European brands comprising the Volkswagen group, Audi has provided humanitarian aid, donating 5 million euros in emergency relief.
Audi also held a concert at its Ingolstadt press shop on April 14, led by violinist Lisa Batiashvili, the artistic director of the Audi Summer Concerts. The Concert For Solidarity was streamed live to keep the touch points (albeit from a distance) alive.
Audi, like many other brands, benefited from the inevitable push to the digital platform as the pandemic stopped physical activity. Thanks to the urgency to react to the pandemic due to its suddenness, the eco-system was forced to adapt, and adopt change in double-quick time.
“For us, it means moving up a gear in our digitalization efforts. We just launched our Audi Online Showroom (www.audisale.sg) for new cars, and Audi Flagship Store hosted on Lazada for accessories and lifestyle collection items,” Schuster says.
Response has been positive, and a clear indicator that the online platform serves to fill a void and also keep brand visibility high.
“On top of closing sales online, we are also keeping the market primed,” Schuster adds. “Consumer demand is actually well and present during this time. Some may want to hold back while we stay at home, but keeping everyone engaged and informed will put Audi top of mind when physical showrooms become operational again.”
It is also important to remain alert to opportunities even as changes are taking shape.
Audi and its retail partner, Premium Automobiles, have been planning to ride the current situation while developing plans down the road. Many of the motoring activities are centred around the big and expensive show-and-sell events like the Motor Show, which, like other conventions and exhibitions, now has an uncertain immediate future.
With the rise of digital platforms, it may be cheaper and cost-effective to reach out to the consumer via the various brands’ own channels of communication. And if that works, then this could become the new normal.
As for the global industry, returning to normal will depend on a variety of factors, ranging from the spread of COVID-19, how governments decide on opening up for business and what the state of economies and jobs will be.
“The automotive business is a global one. While the bulk of our cars come from European plants, the suppliers are from the world over. We only know that ‘normalising’ has to be done safely for all involved.
“With electrification and digitalisation, the automotive industry has been going through major structural changes even before COVID-19, and this will continue. We have to ask ourselves the question if ‘normalising’ means going back to the way things were before, or do we do things differently and even better after this crisis is over?” Schuster wonders.
Perhaps we can take a leaf from Hesse’s poem, Stufen, in which he says there is uncertainty following a new beginning. We too will have to live in the moment and see where the new road takes us.
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