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Audi Design Boss Marc Lichte talks to Forbes about the future of design

Audi is crushing the designs of its new e-tron models. While other brands are either going too funky with their EV designs (BMW i3) and some are too boring (all Teslas), Audi is striking just the right balance between futuristic and traditional design elements. In fairness, the Jaguar I-Pace is also a beautiful example of this. Like any traditional automaker that’s making a big push toward electrification, Audi needs to balance its design traditions with the designs of the future and it seems to be doing that quite well.

In this recent interview with Forbes, Audi design boss Marc Lichte talks about striking that balance; honoring its longstanding tradition while also paving a new path toward the future.

Audi Q4 e-tron concept

Forbes’ Nargess Banks asked Lichte about this balance. “It is a big challenge. Our competitors, start-ups like Tesla, don’t have an automotive history so they build from a white sheet of paper. At Audi, we have a long history, so strategically we are deciding on our family design, then building a difference between our combustion engine cars and battery electric vehicles.” he said.

One of the more interesting design elements of the new e-tron vehicles is their interpretation of the now-famous Singleframe grille. Banks asked why he sticks with the grille, especially when a brand like Tesla ditched the front grille. “Because it is the main signature for the brand, plus battery-electric vehicles still need cooling. So we decided to create a single-frame for the future that is distinguished through function and color. On our combustion engine cars, the grille is black to signify that air is going through this and cooling the engine. On our battery-electric cars, the single-frame uses the body color and it hides all the sensors behind it to signify that this is an Audi but not a classic one.” answered Lichte.

Audi e-tron Sportback prototype (Left) Audi e-tron GT concept (Right)

The future of the automobile is also changing rapidly. Cars are becoming more and more connected, autonomous and digital. The experience of owning, driving and sharing a car is also changing drastically and the four-ringed brand is aware of this. When asked about how Audi is adapting to these changes, especially in terms of design, Lichte said: “Over the last three years, we have started to formulate our design philosophy – who we are, how we see ourselves in the future, how will car companies change and what will be the user-needs. In the future, when the car is connected to the internet, it will become more of a system (rather than a product), so the vehicle will provide a brand experience. I’m talking about everything, from how you find out about the cars, how you enter one, drive one, share one. Someone needs to design these elements. Who do you think should do this? Of course it needs to be us.”

The full interview is up on Forbes and you should check it out. It gives great insight into the e-tron brand and how it’s incorporating traditional design elements with its new design direction.

Categoriese-tron Q4 e-tron
Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.