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Audi’s Head Designers Discuss the Quattro Range, the Audi Moon Rover & More

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Germany is often romanticized as a stronghold of tasteful design, and the legacies of names like Dieter Rams And Max Braun of Braun, Walter Gropius of Bauhaus, Adolf Dassler of adidas and August Horch of Audi serve to uphold the country’s international rapport.

For the Bavarian automaker with the four rings, the “Quattro” philosophy speaks to Audi’s “Vorsprung Durch Technik” approach, which entails leading the industry through design. Every car to bear the Quattro standard must embody progressive, sophisticated and sporty characteristics, and in recent years the marque’s trademark “single-frame” grills been individually tailored to represent the principals of Audi’s A, Q and R ranges.

While attending the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, we had the chance to sit down with Audi head designer Marc Lichte, as well as Audi exterior designers Matthias Fink and Andreas Mindt, to pick their brains on everything Audi.

When did your interest in design begin?

Marc: I had a grandfather who was an artist. He taught me how to paint when I was five or six, but he was an artist so he wasn’t crazy for cars. Then there was my father, who was crazy for cars, and I found a combination between both. When I was 12 years old, I saw an advertisement for a transportation design university, and I said “I want to do this.” I didn’t know it was an official job that you could even get money from, so at 12 years old I knew what I wanted to do. Then I did my school, and I started working at VW in 1996.

Matthias: I grew up with a lot of craftsman around me, and I was always sketching. There was one occasion, also around the age of 12 or 13, I heard about a university, and I told my father I wished to attend. At first he wasn’t sure, but in the end he was very surprised at all the cool projects the students were working on.

Andreas: My father worked as car designer, so I knew about this job from an early age. I wanted to work in this job 100% from the start, and I started very early. I went with him to see the Herbie movie (The Love Bug, 1997) when I was five years old, and they had the real car in front of the movie theatre. I was in kindergarden, and from this day I had a screw in my head, I was drawing, painting, and designing cars from then.

Marc: We are all crazy for cars, but he (Andy) is the craziest one.

Andreas: No you can’t say that. (laughs)

Audi Q2

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How do you see the new Q2 matching Audi’s design philosophy, and how do you see it breaking?

Andreas: First of all, I think it fits 100% with Audi’s design direction, but in this case it’s a more nasty car, it’s a younger car, and it can break the rules a little bit, like a rebel. For instance, the side panel design is very uncommon or unusual, this makes the car different. But it follows the Audi direction which is “Quattro,” that’s how we describe our philosophy.

Marc: He’s right, the car fits our brand values of being progressive, sophisticated and sporty. These are the basics of each Audi, you can find these with each current Audi and each Audi in the future. But there are a few things we want to highlight, because Audi is Quattro and this differentiates us from our competitors. But for us in design it’s more than a badge, it’s proportion, and Quattro proportions are different. You can see it very easily in the Q2, specifically we want to stress and emphasise the wheels, and we will apply this to future cars, but in a different way.

Andreas: The very first Quattro car (Urquattro) had the wheel arches stuck on the standard Audi body. But for the Q2, the wheel arches are more integrated into the body. That’s the goal.

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What other characteristics define Audi’s design philosophy?

Marc: In the year 2004 we presented the Audi A6, and in the last 10 years or so, everyone around the world has started to associate Audi with single-frame grills. Now it’s time for us to take a bigger step. In the future, we will be heavily differentiating between A, Q and R styles, so we have different shapes, and the Q2 is a very good example with its single-frame grill, and this will be a signifier for all future Q models.

As a main differentiation, R is quite low and wide, Q will be octagonal, and the R has the Audi badge outside the frame itself, because the bonnet is so low.

Andy: You can interchange and build character from mixing these grill profiles, depending on whether you want to portray ruggedness, sportiness or sophistication. There are a lot of possibilities to play with this, and to tell the customer what the character is.

Marc: Side view is also important, the roof line. The A6 has a very fast roof line, almost like a coupe. This is inspired by the first TT, strong body, very tight. You will see this profile on all future A models, the A7, A6, and so on. But our Q models, we do something very different, inspired by the first Urquattro, so we have a more horizontal roof, and these characteristics will be on all our Q models.

How can good design manifest in other ways?

Andreas: Sometimes you can compare what we are doing with fashion or even music. When you listen to music, sometimes you like a song the first time, but you might forget about it after a short while. Other songs, they might stay with you for longer, it might become one of your favourite songs, and we want to reach this goal, which is creating something that lasts longer with more substance.

Marc: If we’re talking about the Q2, there are possibilities to change your car. The head post is customizable, so you might like how your car looks for a few years, then you can go to your dealer and modify it. Instead of black you can get silver, or white. This is like fashion, there is a link there.

The eye that you apply to Audi design, do you bring that same eye when you’re shopping for a suit?

Andreas: Yes, we look for quality, how it sits, it’s comparable.

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Individually, what are your favorite Audis?

Andreas: From history, the Audi Sport Quattro S1 from the Pikes Peak run, and currently I have the say the Audi A6 Avant. It’s a very good car, it’s got the whole package.

Matthias: Almost the same, I would say the Urquattro, the long version, so I have my dream car already. I like it because it’s not so extreme, it’s sporty and has a lot of power, but you don’t see it that often. I would also say the A6 Avant, it’s one of the most elegant cars, it’s something you can own for the long-term, it’s not something you buy and tomorrow you think you want something else, so this is a perfect car.

Marc: There are a few that inspire me, including the first generation TT, as well as the Audi Imsa, that one inspires us a lot in exterior design. Honestly I like all the RS models, not specifically because of the performance, but they have a wider track, and they visualize Quattro. I like all these cars.

What can you tell us about Audi’s moon rover?

Marc: This is being handled in our product studio in Munich, and this studio is focused on product design. They came up with this idea in partnership with the sales department. As you can see, it’s influenced by product design, it’s a machine, it’s not really designed. We applied the Quattro design philosophy here too, and the four wheels are very pronounced on this rover.

Andreas: I like the idea to do different things, to learn something and apply it to something else. It helps us have a broader view, it’s inspiring. It’s part of the philosophy of advancing ourselves. We have to be the first, we have to be the best, we have to win Le Mans like we have 13 times, it’s a good attitude.

Audi R8 V10

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What are you most proud of at Audi?

Andreas: The Audi Prologue, I would say. It’s a show car we designed, it shows direction for the future. There is a lot in the Prologue that you will see in the near future.  It was fantastic when the car was driving around Rodeo Drive, there were some really good pictures.

Marc: It was honestly a very emotional moment for me, presenting this car in Los Angeles, and the reaction worldwide was amazing, I’m very proud of this.

Andreas: It was fantastic when the car was driving around Rodeo Drive, there were some fantastic pictures.

Recently renowned designer Alessandro Mendini collaborated with Supreme, a brand that is big in the Highsnobiety world. As designers, what are your thoughts on Mendini? Are artist collaborations important for Audi?

Andreas: I would say it’s possible to make a collaboration with him, it’s possible to make that connection, not with every car but with the Q2. I don’t know what it could be, but for instance the seat post of the Audi Q2, there could be graphics or different materials used here. It could be great to have a special model from him or with similar artists. The Q2 could be like a blank canvas.

Marc: It’s important, I like this idea.

Andreas: We are part of the culture, and we are within this society, but it needs to fit with the values of Audi and then it would make sense.

Matthias: It depends on the spirit. This artist must have a spirit that supports the customer, because we build cars for the customers. When a given artist has something to say to our customer, and we have the same target, then we would love to work with them.

This post first appeared on Highsnobiety.

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