A 4AM START on a Monday morning is never pleasant proposition. As the Audi A8 picks me up to take me to Heathrow, I mull over the day ahead. Not much has been said about this fleeting visit to Munich, only that I’ll be taken behind the scenes at Audi to learn more about the brand’s new design thinking.
At Munich airport I’m ushered into an identical black A8 and soon we’re at a quiet residential district. This part of Germany has seen its first falling of snow, and, covered in white, the neighbourhood looks quite enchanting. We park up and are led to an unassuming building tucked quietly away from the main road. A discreet sign reveals that this is the Audi Concept Design Studio. Behind these modest walls – a former BMW garage – a team of designers are busy sketching future products for the company.
“For our design studios in Ingolstadt, the Munich idea foundry is like a satellite that is allowed to provoke occasionally and thus stimulate the potential for innovation,” explains Steve Lewis who heads the studio. For this reason the studio has a license to be more artistic than the main hub in nearby Ingolstadt where a larger team prepare cars for production.
Lewis guides me through the various studios that include a large open-plan area for designing concept cars, a vast space where the clay models come alive, and a third room dedicated to product design. Today a young team are sketching a range of travel accessories, a bicycle helmet and a water filer machine for India.
This is the first time someone from outside the world of Audi has been allowed behind these doors. Of course what I see isn’t the whole picture, but a modified one designed to show me what Audi wants me to learn.
The main focus today is the importance of the latest Crosslane Coupé concept car to the company’s future design direction. Shown at the Paris Motor Show in September, this intriguing study car not only gives a taste of how the future Q cars will look like, but shows how Audi design will enter a new phase. Over a much-needed cup of coffee and delicious German kuchen, brand design director Wolfgang Egger explains that it is time to add greater design differentiation between the A, R and Q models.
Not so long ago, Audi would not have been viewed as a premium brand on par with Mercedes and BMW. The firm has worked long and hard to achieve this, so much so that some of its cars now far outshine that of its rivals. But the downfall has been that Audi cars are beginning to look too alike.
In future Audi’s the technical aspects of the car will partially exposed. On the Crosslane Coupé, for instance, the multi-material space frame is visible in the single-frame grille, through intakes in the engine hood, at the sills when opening the door, at the A-pillar and as a load-bearing element in the form of a functional carbon strip in the cockpit.
The simple light design which is almost a graphic element on the Crosslane is also an indication as to where the company is heading in terms of headlamp design, which I’m told will be less jewelled, less decorative on future models.
The design team is initially concentrating on the SUV family, which will be characterised by the 3D single-frame grille as seen on the Crosslane.
“Our refined strategy at Audi design emphasises clarity and a focus on the essentials,” concludes Egger as I am quietly shown out of the building – my confiscated iPhone returned – and into the cold, back in yet another A8 and off to the airport. It has been an eye opening blink-of-an-eye journey into the creative mind of Audi. -Referred from Nargess Shahmanesh Banks.