With the shift away from internal-combustion engines to electrification and the march toward automated and autonomous vehicles, we're in the most transformative moment in automotive history. Audi is one of the earliest adopters of new technology, and as engineering evolves, so does design. Rather than creating radically different designs for its initial e-tron EV offerings, Audi opts for more traditional styling that creates a bridge between the past and future, but that's only the first step.
We sat down with Oliver Hoffmann, Audi's chief development officer, and head of design Marc Lichte in Audi's Malibu, California, Design Loft to hear their thoughts on Audi's next steps.
As Lichte points out, having design studios in both California and Beijing allows designers to draw inspiration from Audi's most important markets. There are different sensibilities related to each, but appearances must still remain unmistakably Audi. As he describes it, "A Coke bottle is recognizable anywhere in the world, but the tastes vary slightly depending on the region."
With the advent of EV architecture's "skateboard" chassis, designers have newfound freedom with fewer of the constraints found with internal-combustion drivelines. That's not to say battles between designers and engineers are a thing of the past. Hoffman quips that there are still discussions on millimeter scales, usually in regard to vehicle height.
Design technology is also evolving. Upon entering the Malibu Design Loft, there's no scent of clay or markers. Everything is now digital and incorporates 3D VR modeling for a more seamless and efficient workflow that spans continents. As a result, Audi has been creating concepts at a rapid pace.
Reinventing the SUV?
Audi christened the Design Loft last year with a rollout of the Skysphere variable-wheelbase concept. The "sphere" nomenclature refers to the interior space, which receives priority over exterior styling at first. China responded with the Urbansphere minivan-esque vehicle, which gives us a glimpse of how automated driving will affect interiors since the driver will be freed from driving duties.
Next up is the forthcoming Activesphere concept, which Lichte says will integrate automated driving and represent the next big step in Audi's design direction. He hints that even the definition of an SUV will evolve as vehicles will have reduced ride heights to maximize aerodynamic efficiencies.
His enthusiasm for this next concept is palpable, and we're admittedly excited to see how Audi adapts and evolves to this changing landscape. One thing is certain: the future will look very different.
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