Marc Lichte’s Audi e‑Design

Electric mobility is changing the automobile design of the future. Marc Lichte, head of Audi Design, talks about the key features of the exterior design on the Audi e-tron.

10/05/2020 Report: Bernd Zerelles Photo: Robert Fischer — Film: graupause Reading Time: 5 min

Marc Lichte Leiter Audi Design

“There has never been a more exciting time to be a car designer. Right now is the best time to rethink and reconceive automobile design – in short, to take car design into the future. The electric mobility transformation is paving the way for this. Car design has always been approached in the same way over the past 100 years. At the heart of everything was the masterpiece – the engine. A nice-looking body was then designed around it. And finally, an interior was specified.

“The approach will be exactly the opposite in the future. That’s because the technological masterpiece – the combustion engine – no longer exists with electric mobility. The focus is shifting to the customer and their wishes. What is the intended use for the car? Long distance, city, leisure? How should the interior look? Should I be able to work, read, or sleep in it? And last of all, we designers then conceive the exterior.

“In this transformation process we are pursuing a clear strategy: We are not alienating our customers with irritating design. After all, e-mobility is a completely new approach to mobility that demands openness from the customers. We are taking our customers with us every step of the way on this journey into the future. With every new Audi electric vehicle, we are getting more progressive in terms of design. At the same time, one aspect will endure: Every Audi features a highly attractive design, not least because that is one of Audi’s core values to which I am committed along with my entire design team.”

The magic of proportions

“The proportions form the basis of any good design. The technical platform for electric cars enables us designers to create vehicle proportions that we have long dreamed of. When we sketch vehicles, we always draw huge wheels and short overhangs. That is of course abstract, like the sketches of the fashion designer who draws extra-long legs on the model when designing a dress.

These vehicle proportions are now becoming a reality. The Audi e-tron motors are mounted on the axles, the battery in the floor space in between, the vehicle cabin in the center grows in terms of its dimensions and shifts the larger wheels (needed to bear the weight) outward. The A-pillar moves much further forward – after all, there is no longer an engine under the hood. Huge wheelbase, huge wheels, small overhangs: These completely new proportions define the unique character of electric vehicles.”

Audi Q4 e-tron concept
The Audi Q4 e-tron concept with the dream proportions of an electric car: long wheelbase, large wheels, small overhangs.

The face tells you it’s an Audi

“Audi has a long tradition as the most progressive maker of premium vehicles. We are not just some electrical start-up that is drawing a new car design on a blank sheet of paper. The Singleframe grille on the front is Audi’s signature; it elevates us as a face from the masses.”

“The Audi Singleframe links the radiator above and below to form one unit. But what can be done when there is no longer a radiator on an electric vehicle? How do we show that it is an electric car, yet still an Audi? My team came up with an idea that is both simple and ingenious: The Singleframe grille is always black on an Audi with a combustion engine, because it is open and ventilates the radiator situated behind it. On the Audi e-tron the Singleframe is visually inverted, always in the car color with a dark surround. As a result, you can tell from a distance that it’s an Audi, but an electric one. The Singleframe lets an Audi be an Audi. Even an electric Audi.”

Singelframe-Grill Audi e-tron
The face of every Audi e-tron: the enclosed Singleframe grille.

Digital light visualizes Audi’s lead

“Each of our designs must first and foremost radiate a presence: Here comes an Audi. But of course an electric car must also very clearly say: Here comes the future. And the future is digitalization – like the lights on the Audi e-tron. The production version of the Audi Q4 e-tron concept, for example, features digital daytime running lights, of which I am very proud. The great thing about them is that every customer can individually design the digital daytime running light graphics in the front headlights. One person might like three Xs in the light silhouette, while another may prefer a horizontal strip. This isn’t just personalization; above all else, it is digitalization made visible. It can also be seen in the taillights, which are linked by an animated light strip.”

“We are already working on enabling the headlights to communicate with passers-by in the future. This is a requirement of autonomous driving. After all, if there is no longer any eye contact between the driver and the pedestrian in urban traffic – because the driver is reading emails while the car drives itself, for example – then the headlights will have to take over this communication role.”

“In terms of digital light, we are getting more progressive step by step. Every future Audi e-tron will have these features.”

Digital daytime running light front and rear
The digital daytime running light graphics in the front headlights can be individually defined from a preselection on the Audi Q4 e-tron production model fitted with this headlight option.

The sill accentuates the heart

“When it comes to electric mobility, the heart of the vehicle is no longer the engine beneath the hood, but the battery in the floor of the vehicle. What is its capacity? How light is it? What is its range? Accordingly, every Audi e-tron has an expressively designed sill that very clearly signals the location of the car’s beating heart. The front hood on the Audi e-tron has a much more sedate design. Power domes on the hood are a thing of the past.”

“Talking of the battery, in contrast to the conventional Singleframe, the air intakes on the front, left, and right of the Audi e-tron Singleframe are open in sections of the louver. They channel air to the battery in the vehicle floor to cool it down. That’s because a heated battery charges more slowly. The Audi e-tron models have an especially efficient cooling system and therefore charge very quickly.”

Sills Audi e-tron Air Intakes at the front
The beating heart of the Audi e-tron is here: The sill accentuates the battery. Air intakes in the front specifically channel air to cool the battery.

Muscles allude to the quattro genes

“An Audi with a combustion engine features a design with many hard edges. The Audi e-tron models of the future, meanwhile, have gentler and more defined muscles. As such, we are using the design of the vehicles to underline the evolution of the drive system. We are interrupting the shoulder line of the design, which ran along one height for decades, in the center of the vehicle’s side, shifting it further down, and accentuating the muscles of the vehicle silhouette at the front and rear – and thus all four wheels – with gentle lines.”

“This is also reminiscent of the quattro drive system, which is deeply rooted in the Audi genes, because the option also exists on the Audi e-tron to use four-wheel drive.”

Marc Lichte talks
More defined muscles in the design highlight the evolution of the electric drive system.

Aerodynamics are more important than ever

“It’s not only progressive design that is firmly rooted in the Audi marque, but also progressive thinking in terms of sustainability. It goes without saying that all Audi models are formed in a wind tunnel to make them as efficient as possible. Less wind resistance means fewer energy resources are needed for propulsion. That is why we are once again carefully focusing on aerodynamic design on all of our Audi e-tron models. On electric vehicles, the aerodynamics – along with many other factors – can increase the range. As designers, we see this as a clear obligation.”

“The overall body of our Audi e-tron range is a streamlined droplet shape with a fast, sleek roof; the lines taper off at the rear and flow into deliberate, sharp separation edges. Along the side line, the wheel outlines at the front and rear produce a straight separation edge. The entire underbody of the Audi e-tron features streamlined paneling, flowing into the rear diffuser. And even the new wheels have aerodynamic trims and yet still resemble a sporty wheel with spokes.

“Last but not least, our virtual exterior mirrors also contribute to the low air resistance – and make Audi’s Vorsprung visible.”

The flying roof above the C-pillar
The flying roof above the C-pillar and the sill at the rear are designed for optimal airflow.
The trim on the wheels and virtual exterior mirrors
The trim on the wheels and virtual exterior mirrors optimize air resistance.

Smarter sustainability

“Sustainability can be found in every facet of our approach. For instance, our engineers have developed a paint for the Audi e-tron that reflects considerably more sunlight. As a result, the vehicle doesn’t heat up as much and the air-conditioning unit doesn’t need to do as much cooling, which means that it consumes less of the vehicle battery’s precious power.”

“And just a brief mention of the e-tron’s interior to round things off: Recycled material will replace leather in premium vehicles in the not too distant future. Audi will also have a vegan line for the interior. We are also showcasing the paradigm shift of the new, sustainable electric mobility drive system concept in the interior.”

Painting Audi e-tron models
A special paint on the Audi e-tron is better at reflecting sunlight.
Silhouette and Portrait Marc Lichte

Marc Lichte

Marc Lichte, 51, began his career at Volkswagen in 1996 while studying for a degree in transportation design at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences. Since 2014, Marc has been head of Audi Design. Besides exterior and interior design, he is responsible for a team of over 400 designers as well as the color and trim division. He also oversees the design of racing cars. By creating the Audi Prologue concept in 2014, Marc redefined the future of the luxury car at Audi. His first vision of an Audi electric car followed in 2015 with the Audi e-tron quattro concept. Most recently, Marc showed us what kind of vehicle concepts we can expect in the future with the show cars AI:CON, AI:ME, AI:RACE, and AI:TRAIL.

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