With its concept cars and studies, Audi is taking a stand and shaping a sustainable future.
With its sphere concept cars, Audi is shaping the future of mobility. Audi Board Member Hildegard Wortmann highlights how sustainability is driving the process.
The vehicle shown is a concept vehicle that is not available as a production vehicle.
Ms. Wortmann, over the past few months, Audi unveiled three sphere concept vehicles – the Audi skysphere concept, Audi grandsphere concept and Audi urbansphere concept. What is the common thread running through these vehicles?
These three concept vehicles embody our brand strategy. They lend shape to our vision for the future of progressive premium mobility. With “sphere” as the common element in the model names, we highlight how all three studies revolve around the new interior concept and the 360-degree digital ecosystem that create a whole new on-board world of experience. While the Audi skysphere concept is an exciting testimony to how technology and design inspire each other, the Audi grandsphere concept reimagines the interior from the ground up as a spacious first-class lounge. Finally, the Audi urbansphere concept is the largest concept vehicle in the sphere family to date. With its high-tech offerings and generous interior space, it brings first-class comfort to life.
You refer to the Audi sphere concepts as alternative living spaces that lend themselves to captivating experiences. Can you explain that in more detail?
We strive to harness high-tech solutions to create high-class environments. All three concept cars are fully electric, yet e-mobility is primarily just a reference to the drive system. We need to think beyond that to the next step. Automated driving could become the next big game changer. And that has the potential to unlock entirely new possibilities in automotive interior design. This part of the automobile is undergoing a stronger transformation than at any other time in recent decades. Traditionally, carmakers designed cars from the outside in, starting with the exterior before moving on to the interior. By making living space the heart and soul of the car, Audi is turning this idea on its head and designing vehicles from the inside out. Another reason why automated driving is so groundbreaking is that it saves time. And time is, after all, one of our most precious commodities today. If our time in a car doesn’t need to be devoted to watching the road, then we can use it for other things. Each sphere concept car is a space that offers people fresh experiences over the course of a journey. The emphasis on occupants’ needs and the quality of their experiences has shifted the design focus on to the cabin where interior architecture gives rise to new end-to-end vehicle concepts.
For the first time, Audi adopted a co-creation process to take prospective customers’ wishes into account during certain parts of the design stage. Do you believe this is an approach that holds even greater promise for the future?
We opted for the co-creation process when designing the Audi urbansphere concept. Since the car is purpose-built for commuting in China’s megacities, Audi co-opted a group of selected Chinese trend receivers and prospective Audi customers in honing the design. In this way, customers’ needs can be incorporated from very early on in the vehicle’s development. Marc Lichte, our head of design, and his entire team were delighted with the process. Considering that people are at the heart of our thought and action, we can well imagine making greater use of co-creation in the future.
Sustainability is playing an increasingly important role in the premium fashion, home living, travel and leisure activity segments. Do the three sphere concepts¹ represent this attitude for the brand?
It’s true. There are now even eco-conscious fast fashion lines. You can see the move towards end-to-end sustainability everywhere. The classic automotive industry tradition focused on building engines that increased acceleration by perhaps just another tenth of a second. Today, it is vital to contribute to the sustainable development of our planet – and consequently society as a whole. In other words, the stakes are higher. Customers are very well informed and want to know how sustainable a company’s entire value chain is. They rightly question brands that don’t pull their weight in that regard. Businesses that fail to embrace environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) principles will no longer be successful going forward. There’s no getting past sustainability, it’s the only way to go – and not solely because customers are demanding it. It’s our responsibility to secure the future by preserving our natural resources, halting climate change, creating contemporary jobs and harnessing technology to build more humane and resilient societies. Progress of this kind is more urgent than ever.
How would you describe the transformation that Audi is undergoing?
For us at Audi, the future is an attitude. With the automotive industry currently experiencing an unprecedented sea change, we have the power to redefine so many things. The scale of opportunities is matched only by the challenges. Not that we have a choice in the matter. This is a responsibility that we as a company must shoulder by boldly advancing towards a more sustainable change. We can neither continue with business as usual nor just stand by and watch the future take shape. The science points to a future that is electric. No other alternative is capable of reducing greenhouse emissions as effectively and efficiently. And we cannot afford to delay any longer, this is our final call to avert climate change. I’m glad we started developing e-mobility at Audi so early on. All-electric drives and digitalisation have the power to reshape the world of mobility.
The sphere concept cars are forward-looking designs. Will their impetus be felt in Audi production vehicles for customers?
Unlike the Four Rings’ previous vision cars, the new concept cars are not offering a glimpse of a distant future. Instead, they showcase contours, technologies and worlds of experience that will be incorporated into the Audi production vehicles from as early as the mid-2020s.
Audi is continually expanding its range of electric cars. How does that go down with customers?
Our decision to embrace sustainable, electric mobility from an early stage has been validated by strong customer demand. In 2021, sales of our all-electric vehicles grew by 57.5 percent. Now we are harnessing that momentum to systematically expand our range of electric vehicles. Last year alone, we more than doubled the number of all-electric models compared to the previous year. By 2026, the Audi range will include over 20 all-electric models. From then on, we will be offering only all-electric versions of all our new models. And starting in 2027, our customers can look forward to e-models in all core segments. I see it as our duty to bring Vorsprung to life. Because for us, there is no doubt – the future is electric! Increasingly, we have noticed that our customers expect Audi to take a clear stand. To that end, businesses must live and breathe proven values, such as sustainability. And that’s exactly what we do.