Audi’s Dr Ulrich Hackenberg has stepped down from his role as R&D chief. Or to respect his full title, he’s stepped down as Member of the Board of Management for Technical Development.
Hackenberg’s departure comes in the wake of the VW diesel emissions scandal. Arguments about whether it’s right for him to depart his role can be saved for elsewhere. What is impossible to deny is that VW, its subsidiaries and the car industry in general would be poorer without Hackenberg’s three-decade-long influence.
Here are the highlights of his time at Audi and VW. As CVs go, it’s not a bad one…
Audi A2 (1999)
A car which failed to sell anywhere near as well as Audi hoped, reports suggesting that all but the most specced-up examples lost the firm thousands of pounds apiece.
And yet the problem wasn’t the A2’s lack of talent, rather its repertoire of skills arriving a decade before the wider public would ever appreciate them.
Here’s a car with a focus on lightness, fuel economy and super-slippery aerodynamics, all while squeezing the interior space of a decent family hatchback into the footprint of a Fiesta.
That it was more fun to drive and more interesting to look at than any contemporary Audi short of the TT is a mere aside.
In the 16 years since the A2’s arrival, Audi’s stock has risen to a point where its badge is glued to all manner of niche products. A product that so ably combines fun and common sense surely couldn’t be made quickly enough.
Yet sadly, it arrived rather too far before its time for us to know for sure…
Volkswagen XL1 (2011)
It may look rather different to the Audi A2, but the XL1 is derived from a very similar school of thought. Here’s a car that weighs next to naff-all (795kg), has a scarcely believable drag-coefficient (0.186Cd) and boasts styling barely diluted from its concept car. It’s even kept the cameras-for-wing-mirrors…
With a price tag of £94,000 and just two seats, it’s possibly the worst definition of ‘people’s car’ in VW history. And yet as a snapshot of the company’s technical ability, there is nothing to touch it.
Enthusiasts can genuinely enjoy the XL1’s rear-drive layout and lack of steering assistance, while the more parsimonious will revel in 30 miles of electric range and 313mpg (no, we haven’t missed a decimal point out) when its diesel-electric setup is driven to its full potential.
Cars this clever could just repair VW’s shattered reputation.
OK, so this slide isn’t for a sexy supercar that lifted Audi or VW’s reputation into the stratosphere.
In truth, it’s far more important than that: Ulrich Hackenberg was the orchestrator behind developing the handful of platforms that will underpin nigh on everything the VW Group makes.
It started with the longitudinal ‘MLB’ platform, which means the Audi A5 is related to the Bentley Continental GT, but perhaps more well-known is the newer, more compact MQB, which is explained in rather more techy detail here.
This sits under the VW Golf, Audi TT, Skoda Octavia, and so many more other cars we’re not going to waste your time naming them. An architecture and box of bits that cuts development time and boosts profits, it’s something the rest of the car industry is adopting.
Again, such frugality will be pivotal in reversing VW’s plunge in profits.
Audi A4 (1994)
Hackenberg had his hand in the development of many Audis in his spell with the company, but the A4 – as well as the smaller A3 – could be the most important.
They’re the Audis that sell in biggest volume, yet wind back a little over 20 years, and neither existed. Back then, Audi was a fringe player, selling a mere fraction of the cars BMW and Mercedes did.
Now, Audi is the leader of the three and the popularity of its most prosaic models – the A3 hatchback and A4 saloon – is the greatest catalyst of this.
Like your driving? Those burbling V8-powered RS4s couldn’t exist without an A4 to underpin them…
Hackenberg played a major role in VW’s return to world rallying in 2013. And the Polo R WRC has won every championship its competed in since.
Meanwhile, a number of Audi’s Le Mans 24 Hour victories – using TDI diesel technology, don’t forget – came with Hackenberg overseeing the firm’s motorsport programme.
Mere days before the first news of VW’s emissions cheating broke, rumours of the group entering Formula 1 had begun to swell. With budgets being shrunk and non-essential projects mothballed, don’t expect this to happen any time soon.
Audi TT (1998)
The A3 and A4 may have garnered the sales volume and market share for Audi, but no one model has surely done as much for its image as the TT.
Put your hairdresser jibes or hang-ups about its lack of dynamic acuity to one side – beyond the 911 and reborn Mini and Beetle, are there any more instantly recognisable modern shapes on the road?
And there really is substance to back up the style: the now-ubiquitous DSG paddleshift gearbox shot to fame in the MkI TT, the MkII made diesel sports cars acceptable, while the current MkIII kick-started the transformation of Audi interiors with its ‘virtual cockpit’.
It hasn’t advanced propulsion to quite the extent of the XL1, nor boosted Audi’s coffers as rapaciously as the A3 and A4. And it’s not as worthy as high-tech platform sharing. But the TT’s impact on the car market feels every bit as large.