Eine viel befahrene Straße in Peking

Handshake with the future

How Audi explores trends in China

What moves the customers of tomorrow in the "Middle Kingdom"? A team from Audi Innovation Research (AIR) in Beijing explores this question daily. The Senior Research Analysists Ming Zhu and Haiwei Bai talk to Audi Blog author Lisa Niermann about the Chinese customers of the future and trends in China.

Ming Zhu und Haiwei (Odin) Bai im Interview mit Lisa Niermann
The Senior Research Analysten Ming Zhu and Haiwei Bai under discussion. They explore what the demands of tomorrow's customer look like.

Friday afternoon in the middle of Beijing’s art district. Ming Zhu and Haiwei Bai are sitting in a hip cafe full of young Chinese people. They are talking animatedly. Their topic: What will the customers of tomorrow be like?

The goal: to decipher the desires of tomorrow’s customers

Since 2015, as part of the AIR office in Beijing, the pair has been working daily to figure out the requirements of the Chinese customers of the future.

The team analyzes trends, observes the growing Chinese high-tech scene, and works closely with a network of innovative lateral thinkers. This is exciting and important work in a country where the automobile market is booming, and the number of car brands is rising rapidly—as of today, there are already more than 70 different brands in China.

How do the Audi trend researchers in Beijing do their work?

Ming, Haiwei, how would you describe the work of Beijing’s AIR Office in three words?

Ming: For me, these three words are symbolic of our work: Insights. Sensor. Bridge. We gain insights into the thoughts and desires of our customers and, of course, into the expectations on Audi and the respective products. Also, like a sensor, we filter the trends of the future here in China. We share all this information with our colleagues at Audi China, the AUDI AG, and our joint-venture partner, Audi Sales Divisions. We are also the literal bridge between the customers and Audi.

Haiwei: For me, the following three words best describe our work: Exploration. Analysis. Transfer. We at the AIR Office Beijing explore the Chinese market and future developments by hosting interviews and workshops with clients and so-called trend receivers. With our analysis, we contribute to ensuring that the customer’s wishes reach Audi.

Trend research and market research: what’s the difference?

Ming Zhu und Haiwei (Odin) Bai betrachten einen Flyer des AIR in Peking.
How are the customer's demands integrated into the actual car? Trend and market research allow for insights into expectations towards a brand and its products.

Since you’re exploring the Chinese market and Chinese trends: what’s the difference?

Haiwei: Trend research focuses on the future — for example, on political changes or changes in customer behavior. 

Ming: By contrast, market research focuses on current conditions such as customers, markets, or competitors.

Haiwei, let’s take a look into the future: what trend are you exploring right now?

Haiwei: The project is called Space III, and it is one of the concept cars that fits the future Chinese customer. We started it in 2015 with our colleagues from the Audi Design Team in Beijing. This concept brings together interior and exterior trends and combines them with autonomous driving, artificial intelligence, and new models of mobility.

How the trend researchers identify future customer demands

The concept car was created in response to feedback from customers. How did you collect it?

Haiwei: First, we conducted a trend study on the topics of sustainability, urbanization, but also on life in Chinese society in the future. Based on these results, the designers created an initial draft. Based on seminars and intensive discussions with customers, trend researchers, and Audi employees, we have summarized topics such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence in 60 different concepts.

You have explored the future of everyday Chinese life in the study. What are the significant trends in China?

Haiwei: One of the most central themes, which differs little from the trends in Europe, is digitization. And urbanization plays a large role in China. That is a contrast to Europe: Many young Chinese people don’t necessarily want to live in the megacities of Beijing and Shanghai but would prefer to live in smaller and newly built cities. In urban planning, the focus is increasingly set on sustainability and improved air quality.

Ming Zhu und Haiwei (Odin) Bai im Gespräch mit Lisa Niermann

A high standard of living: in contrast to German customers, Chinese consumers value larger cars with a high number of assist systems.

What distinguishes the Chinese customer from the German Customer

Ming, sustainability also plays a major role in Germany society. You have studied and worked in Germany — what do you think are the most notable differences between Chinese and German customers?

Ming: Chinese customers are much younger than German customers: Their average age is 38. German customers, on the other hand, are 52 years old on average. That’s a big difference. In addition, Chinese customers prefer cars that reflect a high standard of living and that is notably larger – a great deal more so than Germans do.

Can Audi live up to the high standard of living in China?

Haiwei: Absolutely. Audi’s premium offers definitely fulfill this demand. Chinese customers particularly appreciate an interior adapted to them, as well as the comprehensive coverage provided by the driver assistance systems.

Ming and Haiwei, how will all these trends affect the future of life in China?

Haiwei: Digitization in China is already noticeable in every aspect of life. With the App WeChat, we order everything from home, whether it is clothes or vegetables. Even the homeless use smartphones and QR codes.

Ming: For the younger generation that doesn’t know a time without digitization, the effects of these trends will be much stronger. The possibilities of digitization will influence the megacities and their sustainability in the future.

What are the future trends in China?

Ming Zhu and Haiwei Bai deal daily with this question. As part of the Audi Innovation Research (AIR) Office in Beijing, they explore the Chinese market and create a bridge between customers and Audi. With Lisa Niermann, they talked about customer requests and future trends in China.

„Insights. Sensor. Bridge.“ These are the essential terms Ming Zhu uses for describing her work in Audi Innovation Research. With interview analyses and workshops, she is contributing to ensuring that the customer's requests are integrated into the new cars.
What does the customer of tomorrow look like? Senior Research Analysts Ming Zhu and Haiwei are researching this topic – with interviews, concrete customer feedback and different studies.

„Insights. Sensor. Bridge.“ These are the essential terms Ming Zhu uses for describing her work in Audi Innovation Research. With interview analyses and workshops, she is contributing to ensuring that the customer's requests are integrated into the new cars.

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"Exploration. Analysis. Transfer.“ – that's how Haiwei Bai describes his work. At the moment, he is working on the Concept Car Space III with the Audi Design Team in Beijing.

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What does the customer of tomorrow look like? Senior Research Analysts Ming Zhu and Haiwei are researching this topic – with interviews, concrete customer feedback and different studies.

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Audi China: Peking
Audi MediaCenter

Audi in China

Audi has been active in China since 1988 and has been the leader in the country’s premium segment ever since. AUDI AG is represented in China by a joint venture and a one-hundred-percent subsidiary, Audi China in Beijing. The Audi joint venture FAW Volkswagen produces the models Audi A4 L, Audi A6 L, Audi A6 L e-tron, Audi Q3* and Audi Q5* in Changchun in northern China. The Audi A4 L and the Audi A6 L were developed especially for China with a longer wheelbase. At the Foshan plant in the south of China, the joint venture produces the Audi A3 Sportback* and the Audi A3 Sedan*. Another localized model will roll off the as...

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