'We've changed our thinking on marketing the A2 after getting a surprising amount of interest from companies who have drivers operating in mainly urban areas. They are telling us they want to move from larger mainstream cars to something smaller in order to cut operating costs. But the point is that while they're saving money, they also like the idea of using a smaller car with a prestige badge,' said Rose at the launch of the A2 in France.
Due to go into UK showrooms in September, the mould-breaking hatchback billed as a 'versatile compact' was also on display at the Fleet Show to allow Audi UK to gain further feedback from potential fleet users. The world's first volume-produced aluminium-bodied passenger car, it has a remarkably low drag coefficient of 0.28 to allow its ultra-low emission turbodiesel or petrol 1.4-litre engines to blend lively performance with class-leading economy.
Prices and specification details are still under negotiation with the factory, but Rose told Fleet News: 'I'm anxious to market this car in an aggressive fashion. Our idea is to undercut competitors and the Mercedes-Benz A-class - its closest rival - in particular. My aim is for the lead-in version to go on sale at under £14,000 and be as close as possible to £13,500 while still coming complete with the quality features and packaging people expect of an Audi.
'We've decided that even the standard car will have anti-lock braking, twin airbags, ESP electronic stability, power steering, electric windows and central locking,' he said. Rose said he wanted to make the best of his company's 'distinct marketing advantage' of class-leading CO2 emission levels with both power units. The weight savings and the car's aerodynamic shape provide a double-edged sword in reducing fuel consumption and output of CO2, hence the petrol-engined variant's emission of just 144g/km and diesel's 116g/km.
Such levels easily put the car in the lowest benefit-in-kind tax band on the new system's introduction in 2002. Rose added: 'I think we will do particularly well in all respects when we are compared with Mercedes-Benz.' Initial supplies will be petrol-driven, with three-cylinder TDI examples available from early next year. Both will come with the choice of two trim levels. Automatic air conditioning is expected to be a £700 option and a novel twin sunroof called Open Sky - a sliding glass panel with a much larger opening than usual and which can be opened in two ways - is likely to be a £600 extra.
Audi's first-of-its-kind A2 will also be the first car with an engine 'locked' away under a sealed bonnet. Instead of raising the bonnet to make routine checks, owners will reach the dipstick and filler caps for the engine oil and washer fluid via a flap in place of the conventional radiator grille. 'As the A2's maintenance interval stretches to two years or 18,600 miles - and a whopping 31,000 miles for the turbodiesel - there seems little point in providing a traditional bonnet,' said Rose.
The benefit of the little Audi's spaceframe technology is felt instantly out on the road. Even though it has great torsional rigidity and feels sturdy, bodywork that is about 150kg lighter than a conventional steel shell allows the petrol version to have a sporty air and its diesel stablemate to have an unusually lively demeanour. Significantly, the TDI complies with the EU3 European emission limit, while the petrol unit satisfies EU4, currently the most stringent.
Dr Werner Mischke, Audi AG board member for technical development, said: 'Car makers have always been fascinated by aluminium, a material which gives us great scope in design but plenty of problems in manufacturing. Producing the A2 was a challenge, but we feel the result is the best of both worlds rather than a compromise. I believe the technological lead of our brand can be measured in years, and it is this factor that makes our cars so unmistakable. We've made a major shift from convention in using lightness and aerodynamics to achieve operating economy and I think time will show that prestige motoring has more to do with technology than absolute engine output.'
Both versions of the A2 seem to be as quick off the mark as cars with 1.6 power and they cruise with ease on motorways with commendably low overall noise levels. Inside, there is ample space for four adults and high quality trim detailing adds to the impression of being in a vehicle from the next size up. The rear seats are easily removed to provide more space, and carrying capacity in UK versions will be boosted still further by the deletion of the spare wheel.
'We have thought long and hard about this and concluded that most people will prefer to have the extra load space and use the get-you-home solvent we will put in the car to cover the relatively rare event of a puncture. But we realise this is still a thorny issue in some quarters, so we will make a spare wheel available as an option,' said Rose.