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Small is the new big

Photos
Uwe Fischer

Text
Paul-Janosch Ersing

One world, one standard

The Audi brand offers its customers all over the world a unique look and unparalleled service. Whether 100,000 or just 100 cars are sold in a particular country every year, the standards are the same everywhere. The brand lives from its people, whose passion for Audi is tangible.


Land of quattro – the landscape around the Kirkjufell mountain in Grundarfjörður is majestic.

The Strokkur Geyser spewing from the earth at regular intervals, the two-tiered Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir, the historical site of ancient gatherings – anyone traveling to Iceland for the first time can hardly avoid the Golden Circle. Together with further important landmarks, these three most significant Icelandic destinations lie on a sort of circular route. The classic daytrip delivers a picture-book impression of Iceland – vast land­scapes full of lava, billowing steam, forces of nature. All of it accompanied by constantly changing weather.

If you have a little more time to spend and explore Iceland by car, you will soon realize that the roads have improved significantly in recent years. Most of the areas around the capital city of Reykjavik are now accessible on asphalt roads; some connecting roads even have four lanes. Highway 1, the Ring Road, which is 1,332 kilometres long and encircles the majority of the country, is almost entirely paved with asphalt. Gravel tracks, however, remain the order of the day once you leave the main routes.

“For daily life in the city, an off-road vehicle is not ab­solutely essential,” says Friðbert Friðbertsson. “But anyone who wishes to experience the full effect of the Icelandic wilderness must be prepared to venture outside the comfort of the highways and drive along more challenging paths.” The Icelander must know what he is talking about. After all, his company Hekla has been the Audi importer since 1979. Adventurous travellers, he says, want to venture into the highlands in off-road vehicles with lots of ground clearance and oversized, heavy-profile tires. “They are seeking the thrill you get when you peer over the edge of one of the constantly simmering volcano craters.”

The majority of Icelanders lead a considerably more peaceful everyday life. After the island state was stricken by the 2008 banking crisis, the trend turned back toward traditional values. Fish, aluminium and tourism are still the pillars of the Ice­landic economy, with regional woolen goods also enjoying increased sales abroad. Icelandic literature, not least crime novels, is a success in Europe and the USA, while the vibrant music scene has seen Ice­landic artists make a name for themselves worldwide.

Around 200,000 people live in the capital city region in the southwest of the island, with the total Iceland population numbering 320,000. By the end of 2012, around 7,850 new cars had found their way into customer hands, 167 of them from the brand with the four rings. “Icelanders are still feeling the effects of the crisis. We can be pretty satisfied with Audi’s performance on the island,” says Friðbert Friðbertsson, assessing the situation. He looks to the future with optimism, “Thanks to the increasing diversity of the Audi model lineup, we are aiming for a market share of around five percent by 2018.”

Sævar Jónsson, Audi A6 3.0 TDI quattro
Jeweler, ex soccer professional with 69 games for the Iceland national team

Sævar Jónsson in front of one of his four Leonard branches, where he sells jewelry, fine leather goods and exclusive watches. “At the end of my soccer career, I played in Solothurn in Switzerland. There were watches, chocolate and cheese. I opted for the watches.”

“American muscle cars were the big thing in Iceland when I was young. I had a Plymouth Duster myself. My third car was my first Audi – an Audi 100. I owned a lot of different cars during my soccer career. But today I know that Audi offers the best value-for-money among the premium brands. Since the crisis, it has become very important for me to enjoy another kind of luxury – modest, understated. But, at the same time, owning an Audi means I don’t have to sacrifice the sportiness of my car.”

Petur Gudmundsson, Audi Q5
Expert in geothermic boring at Iceland Drilling

Petur Gudmundsson manages drilling work around the world. He drives around 8,000 kilometers every year in his Audi Q5. “I need all-wheel drive primarily in winter. But quattro gives you a good feeling of refinement and safety on slippery roads all year round.”

“I trade in my car for a new one every three years or so. My first Audi was an Audi 80 sometime in the 1980s. I am now onto my seventh Audi. I saw the Q5 for the first time during a vacation in Laguna Beach, California, and thought right away – that’s going to be my next car! Before that, I drove a Q7. But since the kids have left home, a more compact SUV is plenty.”

Asta Kristjansdottir, Audi A1 Sportback
Attorney, Head of Tax and Legal Affairs at PricewaterhouseCoopers

Asta Kristjansdottir worked as an attorney for a bank prior to the financial crisis. The branch office is now a bookshop. “The building is still one of my favorite places in Reykjavik. My youngest daughter and I like to go there for a coffee or a hot chocolate and look at the latest coffee-table books.”

“We have five children, so we need a van. However, the Audi A1 Sportback is exactly right for me as a second car. I drive it to work every day. I saw the A1 for the first time on a road in Reykjavik. Then I looked in the Internet to find out more about the small Audi and went a short time later to the dealership with my husband. There was a red A1 with a contrasting roof in the showroom – and we bought it right away. My kids love it. Our two eldest sons are going for their driver’s licenses at the moment, and my husband and I are practicing a lot with them. They are learning to drive in an A1.”

Guðrun Sveinsdottir and Jon B. Stefansson, Audi A6 2.0 T
Attorney and construction engineer, now running the small Silfurberg Hotel

Guðrun Sveinsdottir and Jon B. Stefansson from Reykjavik have fulfilled a dream with their farm. “For the past nine years, we have spent most of the year here in Breiðdalur on the east coast. Silfurberg is on one of the few stretches of the Ring Road that is not yet asphalted.”

“We have driven good cars all our lives – but since we had our first Audi, they have all been Audis. The black A6 is our city car. We drive it when we are in Reykjavik. We like it very much indeed; the interior is refreshingly bright and it drives so safely also in the snow.”

Friðbert Friðbertsson heads up Audi's Icelandic importer and dealership Hekla.

And if a specific model is not available in the standard lineup in Iceland, the dealer nevertheless seeks to fulfill customer wishes. “If a customer is interested in a particular car, we usually manage to find a solution.” A short time ago, for instance, they sold an Audi A8 – as a special conversion for a man with physical restrictions. Friðbert Friðbertsson gives a satisfied smile and continues, “He is completely happy with his new car – and also a little bit proud to be driving the first new-generation A8 in Iceland.”

In Iceland, the route to a new Audi always leads through Hekla. The company, named for a volcano in the south of the country, holds the exclusive distribution rights to the German premium cars. Several models are displayed beneath the spotlights in the showroom on the four-lane Laugavegur. “The current eye-catcher is the white A1 Sportback,” says Friðbert Friðbertsson, as he turns to speak with one of his sales executives. The topic of the conversation is the introduction of the A3 Sportback following a number of inquiries made in recent weeks. The Hekla boss keeps some loyal customers informed on a personal basis – Iceland is very small, at least in respect of its population, meaning that everyone knows everyone else. Or is related.

When it comes to new cars, Icelanders have two preferences – the car needs to have five doors, and it has to be an automa­tic. “The fact that there are very few cars here with manual gearboxes is the result of many years of American influence,” explains Friðbert Friðbertsson. The western influence, however, does not extend as far as pick-ups. It is sedans like the A4 or the A6 that enjoy the greatest popularity here, which is why the Hekla boss is particularly excited about the anticipated A3 sedan – and is certain, “With a trunk and five doors, it will be the perfect car for Iceland!”