One where car interiors look very different.
The shift towards electrification and autonomy will drastically change how new vehicles are styled. Automakers who do not embrace this change will be left behind, but Audi is already thinking ahead for its next-generation vehicles. During a virtual tech talk to discuss design, CarBuzz received more details about three upcoming Audi concept vehicles, the Sky Sphere, Grand Sphere, and Urban Sphere.
The Sky Sphere will debut first during Monterey car week at Pebble Beach next month. This model looks like a sleek coupe (or possibly a convertible) with autonomous driving features. The Grand Sphere will debut at the IIAA Mobility show in Munich, scheduled for September. Lastly, the Urban Sphere, a larger model built for an urban environment, won't debut until next year in Shanghai.
Audi gave us the closest look at the Grand Sphere during the virtual presentation. The profile appears long and low to the ground, much like an Audi Avant model. "We designers always dream about proportions. This means short overhangs, the wheels in the corners, big wheels, and long wheelbase," said Audi head designer Marc Lichte.
Of course, these proportions were often dictated by the engine up front and the gearbox in the middle, but electric vehicles open new possibilities for design. The 2022 Audi e-tron GT is the perfect example. "As a designer, there has never been a time as exciting as today. Right now is the best time to rethink and reconfigure automobile design," Lichte added.
Based on the Grand Sphere teasers, it appears this concept will take the form of a wagon (or Avant in Audi's speak), a body style Audi seems fond of. When asked if Audi believes the station wagon might make a comeback during the switch to EVs, Lichte seemed keen on the idea. "[The Grand Sphere] will have a very exciting silhouette. Aerodynamics are vitally important, a key parameter. Audi has always been an 'aero brand,' but it becomes more important in the electric world because it gives you more range," he answered.
Put simply, a wagon features a longer wheelbase (which is better to squeeze in larger batteries), and its lower ride height helps it cut through the air, improving efficiency. If consumers want the best combination of space and driving range from their EVs, they may need to embrace station wagons.
The exterior isn't the only element that will change with electrification and automation. Interior design will evolve rapidly as self-driving inches closer to reality. "For the past 100 years, interior design has focused on the driver. If that is no longer the case, we have an opportunity to create an entirely new cabin. This will be a third living space alongside your work and home," Lichte explained.
"With respect to both the design and the essence of the brand, a successful synthesis of architecture, design vocabulary, and materials in the interior is a distinguishing feature of every Audi that will only be reinforced in the future," interior design head Norbert Weber echoed.
Audi envisions car interiors looking drastically different than they do today, with a greater emphasis on creating a pleasing environment for occupants. As part of this shift, Audi will incorporate new materials that we've never seen in a car before. Luxury customers typically prefer leather to cloth and other materials but Tesla has shown that people who buy EVs are more willing to sacrifice it for more animal-friendly upholstery.
"We are working on vegan materials, looking at surrogate leather," said Weber. "We have an extremely high-quality standard that we do not want to compromise on, but very soon you will see new materials, textures, and fabrics in our cars with a high degree of sophistication."
Audi confirmed that none of the Sphere Concepts are strictly slated to enter production, but will influence future Audi models moving forward.