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New era: Digitisation of the purchase experience is expected to be an area of focus for Audi Australia’s new managing director Paul Sansom.

AUDI Australia has detailed the turn of events that involved the company’s incoming managing director Cian O’Brien being redirected to the German prestige brand’s US subsidiary at the 11th hour and the swift appointment of Paul Sansom as the new head of the Australian operations.

In a tale that involves former chief of Porsche and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in Australia, Michael Winkler – who will soon return Down Under after leading Bentley Motors in America for the past two years – Mr O’Brien was named late last year as the new head of Audi Australia from the end of March 2017, effectively changing places with Andrew Doyle who was relocating to England as director of Audi UK.

However, on March 28 Audi unexpectedly announced that Mr O’Brien was being diverted to another role – subsequently revealed to be executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Audi in the US – and that visa approval was being sought for Mr Sansom, who would move from managing director of Audi South Africa to head of the Aussie team. He arrived late last month.

Michael Winkler

Speaking to GoAuto this week at the launch of the new TT RS – an event which Mr Sansom did not attend – Audi Australia general manager of corporate communications Anna Burgdorf said Mr Samson was still working on getting up to speed with the Australian market and that Mr O’Brien was switched to the American role, which sees him responsible for sales and the entire US dealer network, when it suddenly became vacant.

“There was a change in top management in Audi of America so Cian was asked by his old boss to go and take up the position,” Ms Burgdorf said. “His particular skillset was needed in another market, and so the decision was made that he’d go to the US and Paul would come to Australia.

“After three years in the South African market – which is a really challenging market – it was a good step for us to have someone (Mr Sansom) who is used to working in a dynamic and challenging market.

“It was slightly unusual, no question, but I think in terms of what’s the right thing for (each) market, a decision was made at the senior level that Cian’s particular skills were needed in the US and so he ended up not joining us in Australia.”

Andrew Doyle

Mr O’Brien has been in a handover since the start of this month with Mark Del Rosso, who from June 1 will take over the role of president and chief executive of Bentley Motors in the Americas (part of the Volkswagen Group, as is Audi) – the role that former JLR Australia managing director Michael Winkler, who also previously served as the boss of Porsche Cars Australia, would be leaving to return to Australia.

GoAuto is yet to confirm Mr Winkler’s next move upon his return, with Bentley saying only that he will be heading back “later this year”.

At Audi Australia, Ms Burgdorf said it was “still really early days” but that Mr Sansom – who also previously worked with Audi in the UK in a variety of sales, aftersales and customer service roles, before heading to South Africa in mid-2014 – was “incredibly busy trying to catch up on the market and understand the market”.

“He’s a really brand-focused guy, so I think it’s going to be exciting times for Audi and the brand with Paul, someone new, someone who has been in a different market,” she said, pointing to digitisation of the purchase experience as an area of focus.

Cian O’Brien

“There’s no question that, in general, digitisation will rapidly change the face of all car brands, and certainly Audi is no different.

“We’ve got this real focus on making that path to purchase easier for consumer. We’ve done a lot of work in Australia on our digital strategy, from aftersales to customer experience management to what we call My Audi – which is our digital customer platform (and) is really about a ‘frictionless’ purchase – and then aftersales experience.

“For us, as a technology-driven company, it’s incredibly important that we really are at the forefront and thinking about what the customer needs next, and that all takes time,” she said.

Although yet to be confirmed, Audi Australia is expected to become the next manufacturer to allow buyers to customise and order their cars online, similar to Subaru’s ‘Build and Buy’ website.

By Tung Nguyen and Terry Martin

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