Changing faces at Audi

AUDI has finally come up with a face to charm the world, so now it’s giving it plastic surgery, with a new chief of design wielding the scalpel

In design terms, Audi is at the peak of its powers; with the new TT, both inside and out, representing the very best of the breed. So, clearly, it’s time to radically design the whole line-up.

It may not sound like a typically German approach, but that’s what Ingolstadt’s new chief pencil wielder, Marc Lichte, intends to do.

Lichte, 45, formerly of VW and responsible for the lovely Scirocco, only started at Audi in February but has already decided on a new face for the brand, and dropped an early hint of what it will look like with his first concept car, the TT Sportback.

“(Previous Audi designer) Walter de Silva did the most important thing when he connected the upper grille with the bottom one and created the single grille - he gave Audi a face on the level of Benz and BMW,” Lichte explains.

“Audi developed this face only in the last 10 years and the proportions have stayed the same, so now is the time to do a bigger step. The TT Sportback shows the direction we want to go; it’s more horizontal, so it looks lower.

“But that grille is only an evolution, because it’s based on the TT. The next one will be more of a revolution - when the grille gets even bigger the car looks immediately lower an wider and because you can change the proportions.”

The flamboyantly haired designer grabs a notepad and begins scribbling happily, showing us how both the A8 - which he’s working on now, to start his entire design revolution from the top down - and a concept car to be unveiled “very soon”, most likely an A9, will be grilled.

It’s such a big, wide looking new face that we’re forced to ask him if he’s a fan of Lexus’s spindle grille, but this causes him to make a face like he’s just snorted cottage cheese; so at least it shouldn’t be that big.

Grille aside, Lichte’s big thing is to make Audi’s technological touchstones - from light weight to quattro - “visible” through his designs.

“If you look at BMW, they're all about rear-wheel drive so they stress the back of the car, obviously, but we’re all about quattro so we want to create different proportions, we will stress all four wheels very strongly,” he enthuses, followed by more scribbling.

“I’ve been looking in the Audi museum and there are some very interesting examples of this; the Audi 90 quattro race car, that has muscles at the front and the back. This is quattro made visible.”

Gesturing to an A8 parked nearby, Lichte says it’s nice, in a way that suggests he’s being polite, but that it should show off its quattro-ness, and better reflect the sportiness of the brand. The new A8, too, will be a revolution, he promises.

For an inkling of his plans for the rest of the brand, you need look no further than the TT, which he says is “the essence of Audi design”.

“It’s the small greenhouse on a strong body, a DLO which is very fast, this is Audi for us and in the future we will stress it even more, do it faster,” he says.

“This does not mean we will put TT on everything, but the proportions are important. Sportiness is important.”

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