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Yacht-inspired quattro: How Audi’s new design chief is passionately reshaping the brand

It’s nothing new for an automaker to release a design concept, showing the new way forward for the look of the brand’s future vehicles. In this way, the Audi Prologue is no different. Its features hint at what is to come for the German automaker’s larger vehicles, the A6, A7, and A8.

Growing up, Lichte’s father loved sailing.

This is where the normality of the Prologue’s significance ends, in terms of automotive industry standards. Rather than preceding the forthcoming, redesigned models, the Prologue was actually designed after the vehicles it teases.

Astonishingly, the Audi design team, now headed by Marc Lichte, sculpted the Prologue in only four-and-a-half months. To put that into perspective, it usually takes an automaker’s design arm years to design any complete form, concept or otherwise.

Keen to delve beneath the skin of the Prologue, I sat down with Lichte this week at the LA Auto Show and asked him to share the details of not only the Prologue but also his design principles and processes.

The man

Before you can understand the Prologue and Audi’s new design direction, you must first understand the man who championed its creation. Lichte is a tall, soft-spoken man with a palpable passion for the Prologue, the Audi brand, but also for design itself.

Lichte is eager to push Audi’s exterior designs in a sportier, more progressive realm. The way Lichte is going about it though — much like the design process of the Prologue — is unconventional.

Audi-Prologue-Marc-Lichte-Riva-yachts-

Riva motor yacht

Lichte grew up on the shores of a small lake in Germany, with a father who not only loved motor racing but also boats. As a boy, he spent countless hours sailing on the water with his father. And those experiences have influenced him through to today, both in his own personal passion for boats but also in his design aesthetic.

His love for the powerful, flowing shape of ocean-going vessels is evident in the Prologue. Its rear-end shape was directly influenced by the form of Riva yachts.

Boat-like (in the best way)

Believe it or not, the drivetrain layout of a car influences its exterior design. BMW, for example, is rear-drive based. This allows the engine to sit further back in the car, giving it a shorter hood and — accordingly — a longer rear overhang. Since Audi’s cars send power to all four wheels through its quattro system, its engines sit further forward in the vehicle, drawing out the front end and giving the front and rear a similar balance.

The Prologue was designed after the cars it teases.

Eager to maintain this balance in the Prologue and future Audi models, Lichte had to find other ways to add drama to the form, making the cars both sportier and more progressive, while also continuing the Audi brand’s timeless designs. Accordingly, he looked to his life-long passion for boats for inspiration.

In the front, Lichte shaped the nose of the car upright. In the back, he borrowed from Riva yachts and formed a very forward-angled rear-end. With the sharp forward angle of the rear, in position to the straight up and down, low and wide front end, he created “maximum tension in the side-view.”

Amazingly, Lichte has done this without complication. The entire Prologue only has three lines, ignoring accent creases and such. The main “construction” line runs between the front and rear wheels and continues around the entire car. And over the front and rear wheels is another line, which Lichte has added to accent Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system and heritage.

Interior

When creating the interior, Lichte and his team took a cue from the 2016 TT. In that car, the interior is driver focused. After all, it should be; it’s intended as a driver’s car.

Building on that idea, Lichte shaped the Prologue’s cabin to be both driver-focused but also front passenger-focused as well. While the driver is treated to virtual cockpit instrument cluster, the passenger has his or her own dashboard-mounted 4K screen.

During our discussion, Lichte never discussed how feasible the 4K and other interior features of the Prologue are, but an Audi product planner told me that it isn’t too far off of what could be found in future production cars, save the bendable screen in front of the shifter.

Not-so-pie-in-the-sky

Underneath the shorter, wider, straight up and down nose of the Prologue is a 605-horsepower version of Audi’s 4.0-liter TFSI V8 engine. Though Lichte and I didn’t discuss the powerplant, he did divulge the car rides on the next-gen Audi A8 platform.

And that fact brings us back to the significance of the Prologue; it was designed after the cars it teases.

Lichte isn’t ruling out an A8-based two-door Grand Turismo-style coupe like the Prologue.

As I alluded to before, so many concept cars show a far more exciting form than the production cars that follow them. I think of the Subaru WRX concept from 2013 that took journalists and Subaru fans alike to their feet with applause and eager anticipation. This car, however, was designed before the final production car. And when the production car was finally unveiled, it — by comparison to its teaser concept — was a disappointment.

In stark contrast to that, the Prologue’s conception followed the final designs of the cars it previews. In fact, Lichte considers it an extremely rough concept, having taken only four-and-a-half months to create.

The Prologue hints at design elements found in the next-generation A6, A7, and A8, which makes it a bit disjointed, according to Lichte. “Here [in the Prologue] we put together several concepts. The production cars are all one congruent form. Each has its own character,” Lichte admitted.

That said, Lichte isn’t ruling out an A8-based two-door Grand Turismo-style coupe like the Prologue.

Future designs

Near the end of the discussion, the topic turned away from the Prologue and to future, non-conventional Audi designs. Specifically, we discussed what form vehicles powered by alternative power sources could take.

Audi’s A7 h-tron hydrogen car clearly takes the form of a traditional car, with the powertrain dictating the shape of the vehicle. As alternative technologies progress, that all could change.

“Today with standards, we put our PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) technology in existing cars. So the proportion was fixed because of the engine and now we put something together,” Lichte explained.

“Now we are in a time – and it’s a secret, but – you can imagine we will work on a battery-electric vehicle. And this is a big chance for us, because this changes a lot … If you start to design an electric car on a white piece of paper, and we are doing this right now, it will change completely the proportion. It will look so different.”

Conclusion

The Prologue has a sportier, progressive design for Audi, new interior tech, and was conceived in an unconventional way for a concept car.

More importantly, though, it shows us the passion of the man behind the car’s creation. Lichte isn’t just a clever designer or an impassioned Audi employee; he’s a man willing to push the boundaries within confines. I cannot wait to see what Lichte will create next.