This article was published more than 5 years ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.
A throbbing techno beat, blasting out over assembled CEOs and board members and camera crews from the world's press, wasn't enough to enliven a plain Los Angeles auto show.
But what came next was.
As the sheets flew off the Audi Prologue concept, we got our first glimpse of what the German brand's look of the future.
Rarely has a media scrum at a car show been so violent or ruthless. Photographers' lenses were pushed right into the windows. Nobody could get a good look at the car.
In the centre of it all, trying to extricate himself from the mob, was the man responsible: Marc Lichte, Audi's new head of design.
"This is the first baby, yeah," Lichte said once we managed to find a quiet(er) place to talk. "But I have to be honest, this car is representing the next generation A8, A7 and A6 too."
He's been in the job a little over eight months, having started on February 1. "We worked very hard with the team and we designed all three cars – the designs are frozen, now in the feasibility process."
The Prologue, together with the three upcoming large sedans, amount to nothing less than a complete new design vision for Audi — the No. 2 luxury auto maker by global sales in 2013. The company has placed its faith in Lichte, who came over from Volkswagen's design department. His new vision comes just in time.
So many of Audi's cars look essentially the same. Only a very keen eye could tell the difference between an A4 or A6, between a Q5 or Q7. Different lengths of the same sausage, is the common criticism.
But this was necessary, Licthe said, because past designers had to create a look, something recognizably 'Audi'. "They created the single frame [grille]. That's important because it gave Audi a face which was on a level of our competitors."
He's talking about the kidney-shaped grille of BMW which has been around since the 1930s and the gigantic three-pointed star on the nose of every Mercedes-Benz. The single-frame grille debuted on the refreshed 2005 Audi A8.
"Now," he said, "we will do a bigger step; this will be exciting." Clearly he's relishing such a giant project — "starting on a white piece of paper" as he put it. It would be every designer's dream.
"I promise," he says when asked if we'll see more differentiation between models in the future. "We will create different characters."
As for what exactly Licthe's Audi will look like, all we have to go on so far is the Prologue. It could go into production as the A9, a rival for the Mercedes S-Class coupe, but Audi would give no hints.
"I think it's important that we keep the single frame but in a different proportion. We reduced the height because we wanted to emphasize the width of the car."
What else is new? You can expert many more touchscreens in the future. "I see the big trend, where we can do the biggest step, is in the interior. Because of the new interfaces, the interior is changing a lot. It's exciting at the moment." There's not a single button in the Prologue; they've all been replaced by touch panels integrated into the cabin architecture.
Expect future models to also emphasize the brand's quattro all-wheel drive system, with big bulging wheel arches.
The best detail is visible from the rear three-quarter view: the concave curve along the bottom of the rear window. This allows the c-pillars to stretch back to the rear of the car giving it an athletic stance, while allowing for a large trunk opening. It's something the French automaker Citroën has done before, but it's executed more cleanly here. Look closer and you'll see that concave curve is also mirrored in the shoulder line running under the windows.
As far as visions go, Litchte's for Audi is remarkably subtle. There are no extraneous lines, no overt statements of visual aggression. For such a minimalist design, it's not cold or mechanical either. Where cheaper designs shout, this is shape that whispers.
Concepts always get diluted when they head to production, but if Audi and Lichte can translate this well to market, both their futures are looking very bright.
Like us on Facebook
Add us to your circles.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.