“We operate responsibly, transparently and with integrity.”

What role does ESG play, what moves employees and how is Audi driving transformation, integrity and cultural change? An interview with Sabine Maassen, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Human Resources and Organization.

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Sabine Maaßen, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Human Resources and Organization (2022)
Sabine Maaßen, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Human Resources and Organization

The automotive industry has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the semiconductor crisis in recent months. What topic is high on the agenda of Audi employees at the moment?

 

We are in the middle of the transformation. Everything we know is changing: laws, technologies, products, processes, our customers and their needs. This change primarily affects the people who work for us. The transformation requires new competencies and perspectives; it calls into question proven structures and functions. We therefore need to provide certainty and guidance for our employees. Our “People & Culture” initiative ensures that the employees are at the focus of our actions. This understanding is also the basis of our corporate strategy “Vorsprung 2030,” with which we are paving the way to a human-centered tech company. Designing mobility that offers a future that is sustainable and worth living is one of the most exciting challenges of our time. Our workforce is a critical success factor in this regard. Alongside all of these changes, the coronavirus pandemic also acutely highlighted the fact that digitalization, transformation and culture change matter more than ever before. There is no going back to the traditional work model for companies. Working from home has become an integral part of our daily lives. Under the heading “Better Normal,” we are currently working on a concept that considers the impact of the hybrid working world on our office space and workplace design, the sense of belonging in hybrid and digital teams and a digital leadership culture. In this respect, we are focusing equally on activities in the office and in our production areas, with the introduction of flexible arrangements for shift working also in full swing.

As described, Audi is in the midst of a profound transformation. How do you succeed in promoting integrity and culture change at Audi during such a time?

 

We aim to reinforce compliance and integrity every day in the company. This is why our corporate strategy states: We operate responsibly, transparently and with integrity. Audi has drawn consequences from the diesel issue and created the conditions for a new corporate culture. I personally view the transformation as a major opportunity. It is a time to mobilize people. To do this, we have to ensure that corporate culture, leadership understanding and structures are ideally interlinked. The right organizational structures are in place. For example, the deep-rooted integration of our integrity and compliance activities in our processes, or the performance management of our leaders with emphasis on transformation. We are therefore continually developing our corporate culture and relying heavily in this respect on our leaders. Our understanding of leadership at Audi means driving change. This includes, above all, an open speak-up culture and the freedom for everyone to work on their own responsibility, in the best way possible.

Outlook for 2022: What is the most important aspect for your division?

 

Audi focuses especially on the “S” in ESG. It is also the basis of our value-based and socially sustainable HR transformation. Up to 2025, we are providing a training and development budget of as much as 500 million euros. In addition to this, we have launched an additional budget for custom training measures amounting to 100 million euros. The three key aspects of stringent processes, transparent corporate culture and a uniform leadership understanding will be critical in 2022 in order to prepare our employees in all business areas for the working world of the future. We have devised a clear plan in this respect and are implementing it consistently: Our corporate culture is not only shaped by transparent communication, but also specifically promotes diversity and inclusion. Employees from more than a hundred nations working for Audi in Germany alone exemplify this diversity. Transformation also requires rapid action. And this, in turn, depends on optimum processes, so that our measures also reach all levels and can be applied individually. We rely on a uniform leadership understanding in this context, which motivates all Audi employees in both the digital and analog working world to create meaningful technology that will keep tomorrow’s world in motion.

What does the decision to phase out the combustion engine mean for the self-perception of Audi employees? And what will the engine developers do when the combustion engine is finally no more?

 

To start with, we are building upon the Audi spirit, which has always provided the essential technological edge throughout the company’s eventful history. This spirit is part of our DNA and will bring us forward together in this transformation too. “Vorsprung 2030” gives us a clear goal. Our strong corporate culture and our focus on people form the basis for successfully implementing this strategy. We are accompanying the process with many initiatives. This will provide our employees with orientation – especially for the personal changes ahead. This is essential for ensuring a successful transformation. After all, it is the people at Audi who will determine the company’s future success. We are focusing on a value-driven transformation and driving change from the inside out. This is very important to me. We know we have the best workforce on board and we are offering everyone the opportunity to actively shape the transformation. We are steering the complex conversion, reduction and expansion in the context of Audi.Zukunft and the guarantee of employment up to 2029. We initiated the relevant measures in this regard early on.

What role does the subject of training play in this transformation?

 

The training of our workforce in preparation for future topics plays an absolute key role. We want to ready our employees for the professions of the future with individually tailored training and development programs. About 5,000 people already participated in and completed custom training programs in Germany in 2021 in key areas of development for the company. This also includes our “Digital Shift” project at the Neckarsulm site, in which employees from production began a training program that will qualify them as software specialists. A similar transformation project was also launched in January of this year in Ingolstadt with the title “Digital Future.”

Will you need to downsize the workforce because of the switch to electric cars?

 

A car will always remain a car – with seats, brakes and a body. Some areas of electric car production will need less manual intervention and fewer employees, for example the electric motor. That is true. Other areas, however, will need additional manual intervention and also more people, such as in the highly complex area of battery production. The workforce demand will not reduce as significantly as scientific studies for the automotive industry have thus far suggested. This can be seen, for example, in the results of a research project conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) on the impact of the transformation toward electric mobility and digitalization at Volkswagen.

Strategy "Vorsprung 2030" – How Audi is shaping the future

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Strategy "Vorsprung 2030" – How Audi is shaping the future

“Vorsprung durch Technik” for the electric era

 

The electric mobility offensive of the Four Rings comes at just the right time. Climate-friendly mobility is becoming increasingly important. As of 2027, the company will offer electric models in all core segments. This range of electric cars will stand out from the competition thanks to its distinctive Audi DNA and “Vorsprung durch Technik” in certain areas. Design, sportiness, driving comfort and quality will all make a difference. In addition, Audi will demonstrate its strengths in workmanship, color & trim and acoustics.

 

A clear plan for the last and, at the same time, best combustion-engine vehicle from Audi

 

Audi is accelerating its changeover to electric mobility: As early as 2026, all new models from the Four Rings on the global market will be fully electric. And in 2033, the Four Rings will shut down the production of vehicles with internal combustion engines. One exception could be China, where the company is investigating the possibility of longer production depending on local demand. The last combustion-engine generation comes with a promise: It will be the best that Audi has ever put on the market. This drive strategy was set out clearly at an early stage, thus providing planning certainty and helping to guide future investments in a targeted and efficient manner. For Audi, this technological change goes hand in hand with the biggest transformation process in the company’s history. A particular focus will be on ensuring that the employees affected are able to train and develop successfully.

 

ESG performance as the basis for a better future

 

Audi already has net carbon-neutral1 operations for the production of its vehicles at several sites. Now the company is focusing even more strongly on sustainability throughout the entire product life cycle – from resource extraction and vehicle operation to recycling of the materials used. In the future, ESG (Environmental – Social – Governance) aspects are to play an important role in all the decisions made by Audi, as well as in its products and services. The main ESG criteria are climate protection, the use of finite resources, employee health and safety and the perception of social responsibility. Another consideration is the robustness of Audi’s corporate governance, for example in terms of compliance and risk management. Audi also submits to external evaluation in all these areas and will be given an internationally recognized ESG rating.

 

Holistic ecosystem puts users first and creates meaningful and fascinating experiences

 

Audi wants to make the progressive premium mobility of tomorrow even more attractive. Alongside the vehicle itself, its focus in the future will be on a holistic customer experience and on ways of integrating that experience into the lives of users. With this in mind, Audi is taking a close look at the users’ needs. They expect fascinating and meaningful experiences from Audi, as well as holistic solutions that seamlessly span all areas of their everyday lives. The ecosystem for electric cars – and in the future also for cars that drive automated – plays a central role in the transformation and will be key to customer satisfaction and thus to long-term, personal customer relationships. An elementary component of the ecosystem is charging, which has already been implemented successfully with charging options at home wall boxes, a comprehensive charging infrastructure with charging points throughout Europe and intelligent route planning. When it comes to further expanding the ecosystem, automated driving in particular will be a game changer. It will give rise to a large number of additional use cases that will fundamentally change the way people use their vehicles. The car will become a personal experience device and can be used as an office, a movie theater, a place to relax or as a space for shopping and gaming. The Audi ecosystem consistently focuses on the user and connects the vehicle with a wide range of services that cover all areas of life – both online and offline. This creates a holistic experience that spans all points of contact with the Audi brand and fits seamlessly into users’ lives.

 

Intelligent hardware: In the future, vehicle part will be fully connected and increasingly made of sustainable materials

 

Thanks to intelligent hardware, customers will be able to continually upgrade their cars going forward. This will ensure that Audi models remain attractive throughout their life cycle. To this end, Audi wants to offer its customers parts with an intelligent information system that proactively sends a request for replacement if it detects wear or a defect. The technical basis for this is provided by the vehicles’ connectivity with a sophisticated interplay of algorithms and sensors. In addition, Audi will recycle components to premium standards to strengthen a circular economy. Sustainable materials and resource-conserving production are key elements here. All these measures are also aimed at positively impacting the residual values of the models in the future. At the same time, Audi is thus expanding its range of services in the after-sales sector and aims to generate additional revenue in this profitable business area.

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