Winkelmann must boost Audi Quattro’s challenge to BMW M and Mercedes-AMG

FRANKFURT — Stephan Winkelmann faces a challenge to inject fresh momentum into Audi‘s Quattro high-performance cars unit when he moves to the division from Lamborghini. Quattro is struggling to match growth at its competitors Mercedes-AMG and BMW M.

Winkelmann, 51, will become Quattro’s head on March 15, replacing Heinz Hollerweger, 62, who retires after four decades at Audi. Former Ferrari Formula One team boss Stefano Domenicali will be the new Lamborghini CEO.

Not to be confused with its quattro subbrand of all-wheel-drive vehicles, Quattro GmbH is the subsidiary that builds street-legal race car models and is based in Audi’s second major German manufacturing hub in Neckarsulm, Germany.

Its models include the R8 coupe, known as the car of choice for Marvel’s Iron Man fictional movie character Tony Stark, as well as a line of tuned-up series production models such as the Audi RS5.

Quattro sales grew 13 percent last year to more than 17,000 cars, but this is dwarfed by rivals Mercedes-AMG and BMW M, which sold 68,875 and 62,400 cars last year respectively.

Quattro has been in flux and Winkelmann’s appointment is the second change in management in less than two years. Hollerweger was named Quattro chief in 2014. At the time media reports said former Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg had lost confidence in his predecessor Franciscus van Meel following delays to the next-generation R8 and problems with a planned electric version of the sports car. Van Meel is now running BMW M.

Winkelmann, who was born in Berlin but raised in Rome, has been in charge of the Italy-based Lamborghini longer than Rupert Stadler has led Lamborghini parent Audi. Stadler became Audi CEO in 2007.

With his experience from more than 11 years at Lamborghini, Winkelmann “will be a key contributor to the further growth of Quattro,” Stadler said in a statement on Tuesday.

Winkelmann will be expected to deliver the same success at Quattro as he had at Lamborghini where he more than doubled the Italian brand’s car sales to a record 3,245 cars last year while also tripling revenues.

Audi has decided to position its R models more clearly in the market to better compete with AMG and M competitor products, creating the Audi Sport sub brand complete with a red rhombus as its logo.

Audi sees a lot more potential for its performance cars. “We want to more closely coordinate our retail activities with a more dedicated presence for our Audi Sport in certain showrooms, a greater emphasis on customer racing and amateur motorsports, as well as a more attractive range of accessories,” Audi’s spokesman said.

The automaker aims to have Audi Sport sales areas in about 600 of its retail outlets globally, or about one in five of its global network of 3,000 dealerships.