Audi Malaysia and Facebook diplomacy

The intense yet delicate task of managing Audi Malaysia's Facebook page.

audi_facebook_01The gentleman standing next to the car (above) is Rudi Venter, he is the Marketing Director of Audi Malaysia. During the launch of the ninth generation Audi A4 that happened last month, Venter showed members of the media what Audi Malaysia has been doing to engage its customers, and it included a new Facebook page that not only spread the word of Vorsprung durch Technik but also to listen and respond to customers.

audi_facebook_03Now, it’s good that customers are being addressed expediently, but not necessarily great when your social media channel ends up being a complaints desk. So whether it’s a tacit admission by Audi Malaysia that existing channels aren’t quite up to par, or simply a ‘progressive’ step in line with the times, it’s fair play to them especially if customers are better served at the end of the day. To see just how Audi Malaysia is coping, we checked out one of the most popular posts that carried the new A4 commercial.

Sifting through the comments, there were indeed no lack of service related rants from ‘owners’ (note that we can’t possibly verify their identities). It made for a painful read at times but it’s clear that Audi Malaysia spared no effort in responding to each and every rant.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were numerous enquiries from interested individuals and fans, with the ubiquitous ‘PM for price’ requests thrown in for good measure – a testament to the brand’s strong following despite a receding market share. Again, every interest expressed was followed up promptly.

But what caught my attention were a series of unforgiving comments with regards to the price and features of the new A4. I can understand the jibes about an all-new model looking a lot like the last one, but to lambast Audi Malaysia for not offering the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display (as standard) and for pricing the A4 at RM248,900 is harsh and unfair. Since Audi Malaysia can’t (presumably) risk a PR firestorm by responding to these scathing comments, allow me the pleasure even if we are not paid a cent to say this.

So let’s get some facts straight. Virtual Cockpit isn’t a standard feature in the US market (and many others). If you were to choose the base variant in America, you can’t even spec it with Virtual Cockpit. In Malaysia, Virtual Cockpit is available as part of a Tech package option on the A4, it’s not free but you can have it if you don’t mind paying extra. Secondly, Audi isn’t exactly shortchanging anyone in offering an analogue-cum-LCD instrument panel, in fact, they have a knack of making the classiest-looking ones. You’ll find similar instrumentation in the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class across both line-ups, and they don’t offer fully digital ones, yet.

audi_facebook_02Thirdly, the A4 is priced competitively relative to its German rivals even though it bears the brunt of import and excise duties as a fully imported CBU. When the current Mercedes-Benz C200 Avantgarde – the equivalent grade to the A4 2.0 TSFI – was initially launched as an imported CBU in 2014, it was priced at RM285,888. After undergoing local assembly and EEV savings, the price of the 184hp/300Nm C200 currently stands at RM248,888, which is virtually identical to the similarly-equipped 190hp/320Nm Audi A4.

When BMW launched the current generation 3-Series back in 2012, the most affordable CBU variant then was the 320d at RM268,800. The 320i was subsequently introduced as a locally assembled CKD model at a price of RM238,800. Currently, the 184hp/290Nm 320i is priced at RM231,800 after the latest round of EEV tax incentives. So at RM248,900, the fully-imported A4 isn’t overpriced next to its German rivals. It has more power and torque, and comes with adaptive suspension not found in either the C200 or the 320i. Of course, it’s also the newest model of the bunch.

The last we checked, the first 100 units of the new A4 have all been spoken for within 30 days of its launch. I guess not everyone believe what they read on Facebook. Phew.