INTERVIEW: Gael Buzyn Audi PB18 e-tron designer – “We’re designing the future”

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At this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, there were a handful car new cars that stood out from the rest. One of those cars was the Audi PB18 e-tron, an all-electric supercar concept that could have possibly stolen the show. It debuted on August 23, at the famous Laguna Seca racetrack and was immediately met with praise by most of the automotive media. It’s a stunner, the PB18, with its aerodynamic Singleframe Grille vent, sliding driver’s seat with a center driver position and an incredible shooting brake-type design.

Following its debut at Laguna Seca, the Audi PB18 e-tron sat on the Concept Lawn at the Concours, drawing massive crowds. Among the people in attendance was Gael Buzyn, the designer of the PB18, and we had the opportunity to sit down with him to talk about his latest creation.

“The industry is going through a transformation right now. Three pillars: Electrification, Autonomy and Digitization,” said Buzyn. This transformation is creating a new business case, new user case scenario, [such as] the Aicon. They’re focused now on mobility and Level 5 [autonomous] cars and that’s fine but what about the car for the enthusiast driver?”

It’s a bold stance for Audi, as the industry is indeed moving toward fully advanced autonomy rather quickly, as Buzyn stated. So the fact that Audi made its all-electric concept a driver’s car is an awesome buck of the trend.

“For us it was, ‘Okay, you know what? It’s not Level 1, 2 ,3, 4, it’s Level zero.’ It’s all about driving”. That notion of making the Audi PB18 e-tron is not only refreshing but it’s obvious in its design. The PB18’s ability to slide the driver seat over to the center of the car, to give a Monoposto-type seating position like in a Formula One car, shows that Audi is serious about prioritizing actual driver engagement.

Buzyn and his team realized that buying a supercar is all about getting as close as possible to driving a racing car. So that was the intent with the PB18.

“What we wanted to do was retrieve a form of purity in driving,” Buzyn said.

It’s not just a center driving position that gives the PB18 e-tron the purity that Buzyn and his team were looking for. With a transparent OLED instrument panel, the driver can see through the steering wheel, through the gauges and through the opening where the Singlefram Grille used to be and see the road below.

We also asked about some of the specific design elements and technologies of the PB18. The placement of the side cameras on the PB18 is high on the roofline, much different than the Audi e-tron SUV, where they’re in a more traditional spot. We asked whether or not this was for a reason or purely aesthetic.

According to Buzyn, it’s just for aesthetics, so don’t get your hopes up for seeing Audis with roof-mounted cameras. Although, it does seem as if that would give drivers a better view of the road around them.

But one of the main questions we wanted to ask him was about the sliding driver’s seat and whether or not it could be implemented into a production car in the future.

“Everything we do at Audi, we do as engineers. We use technology and build from it. Not the other way around, where we dream and hope that it can happen. We use technology that is now available to do that. So it’s very possible that this could be translated into a production car.”

Just hearing that got us very excited. The idea of a driver being able to switch over to a central driving position when the mood strikes is one of the coolest we’ve heard in a very long time.

Obviously, such a design would need to make business sense, provide proper visibility and safety, and pass crash tests. However, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

“It’s not going to be tomorrow,” Buzyn added.” But believe me, everything we work on here is with engineers, from powertrain, to moving cockpit, to transparent gauges.”

That’s refreshing to hear, because a lot of modern concepts are looking so far ahead into the future, they show off technologies and ideas that are so far ahead of what’s possible, they either never come to fruition or are forgotten in just a short while. The Audi PB18 e-tron is showing not just what Audi can do in the future but what it’s going to do. One thing Buzyn spoke about was the fact that Audi is not looking to follow trends for the future, but shape the future itself.

We asked if the future of the automobile, with electrification, digitization and automation, makes designing cars more difficult. Buzyn argued the contrary.

“No, it makes it more exciting. It makes me think, ‘the future is in our hands’, that’s what we do at Audi. We design the future” he said.

“We’re not reacting to the future. No, we’re designing the future.”