Audi is ready for something resembling a stylistic revolution, according to recently appointed design chief Marc Liche, with sportier styling and greater differentiation between models firmly on the agenda.
After focusing on minor step-changes in its design since its last substantial shift - the polarising shield grille design started in 2004 - the Ingolstadt marque seems poised for the next big change in what some consider its handsome but somewhat safe design language.
It will commence in earnest in Geneva in 2017 — these things take time — when the brand new Audi A8 limousine premieres. However, an exciting new concept car is promised within weeks that will set the foundations for where the company is heading, says Lichte.
We asked him if rumours of an A9-type concept for the LA motor show next month had any truth, to which he tellingly shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it could make sense if we want to create a teaser for next A7 and A8 and A6… could be…” he said. Take that as a hint.
Marc Lichte puts pen to paper for CarAdvice
German Lichte, 45, joined Audi in February this year, before which he worked for Volkswagen for 18 years and penned cars such as the Scirocco, Tiguan and multiple generations of the Golf and Passat. The son of a racer and grandson of an artist, he was almost born to the task.
Tellingly, Lichte says he has always been something of a design extrovert, a tendency to be edgier than some colleagues. Reflecting on the past decade of Audi styling since the Walter de Silva-penned A6 of 2004, he said: “I think now is the time to do a bigger step in Audi design”.
“When there was a [internal] design competition normally we would have five or six models… and one is bigger step, and this was always my one,” he said. “And that’s why they recognised that maybe Marc is the right man for Audi because Audi did the same the last 10 years, I would say.
“My first project on a white piece of paper is the next generation Audi A8, and I’m working on A7 and A6, and it’s perfect to start with a new design language top down, so it’s perfect to start with the A8. This is the last six months I concentrate on these cars.”
2013 Sport Quattro Concept
Lichte said he favours cars with wide bodies, sharp haunches (emphasising Audi’s quattro underpinnings), small glasshouses and slimline headlights. “The A8, this will be more or less a revolution in design, if you want to call it that, it will be a bigger step.”
Take this as read that any Audi that launches before then, including the now-due new A4, will have evolutionary lines in theme with the four-ringed cars you see today. The next A8 will be the start of a sizeable shift in Audi design, which will trickle down to other models in ensuing years.
However, commonality of design between Audi models may also be reduced under Lichte’s penmanship. We asked him if there was concern that the A4 and A6, for instance, were too similar. Lichte said this could be an area of change, and also emphasised a need to greater separate the company’s A, RS, Q and TT ranges.
Naturally, features must vary from body to body — a TT cannot resemble a Q7 — but certain traits could be emphasised more within each model stream. Audi’s plan to make a TT sub-brand of sorts with a Sportback and even a crossover makes more sense when considered as a styling exercise.
2014 Audi TT Sportback concept
“I have to say that today I think we have differentiation between A, Q and R. But in the future we will differentiate A, Q and R and e-tron even more than today, that’s for sure.”
The same seemingly could apply within each group, for instance the A-badged models (A3, A4, A5, A6 et al that share cues). “Honestly they are a little too similar, and I wanted to recognise immediately, this is an A4, A6 or A8… Yes.”
One key, Lichte said, could be to place greater stylistic focus on emphasising what makes Audi different to its German rivals, and by better illustrating the sportiness of the car underneath by changing the surfaces of its skin.
“The [recent] success of Audi is that it did everything different to BMW and Mercedes,” he said. “They are rear-wheel-drive, we are quattro. They are metal, Audi always [uses] aluminium. Want to make quattro more visible. This is a big chance for Audi.”
2013 Audi Q1 concept
Audi can thereby have different proportions that stress all four wheels, rather than focusing on the rear of the car proportionally, he said. Think of Audi 90-based race cars of the late 1980s and you have an exaggerated idea of what he means.
Naturally, design-talk is occasionally abstruse. But we can say one thing: Lichte has plans to make his mark on Audi design in a big way, and the first line of products penned from scratch by his team, due on roads from 2017, will mark a big change for the company.
Keep an eye out for the LA motor show for an idea of what that looks like.
Top: 2014 Audi Allroad Shooting Brake concept