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.

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.


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.


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.”


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.


Mercedes-Benz predicts cars will evolve more in the next decade than ever before

Mercedes-Benz lead designer Gorden Wagener needs to push the company's design language further without diluting it. Digital Trends sat down with Wagener to gain insight into how Mercedes-Benz design will evolve as cars become more…

Audi’s Geneva-bound Q4 E-Tron concept will give us a glimpse of the future

Audi has released a trio of teaser sketches to preview the Q4 E-Tron concept. Scheduled to make its debut at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show, the design study takes the form of an electric SUV with a muscular design and a tech-filled interior.

Honda’s Urban EV is shaping up to be a high-tech, high-style electric city car

Honda will travel to the 2019 Geneva Auto Show to unveil a close-to-production prototype that previews an adorable, city-friendly electric car. The Urban EV will offer about 155 miles of range, and its interior is a tech lover's dream come…
Product Review

Bigger battery and folding top add appeal, but BMW’s i8 remains ultra-niche

Want a high-performance vehicle that's more than just a frightening driving experience? Desire the look and feel of a sports car with the road manners of a luxury commuter? The BMW i8 is for you.

The hottest of all Mini hatches is coming with a Batman-approved design

The Mini John Cooper Works GP concept first seen at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show will go into production in 2020, Mini has confirmed. The John Cooper Works GP is the ultimate performance version of the Mini Cooper.

Report: Amazon and General Motors may invest in electric pickup company Rivian

General Motors and Amazon may invest between $1 billion to $2 billion for minority stakes in U.S. startup Rivian, an all-electric truck company, Reuters reports. Rivian introduced the R1T pickup at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto show.

Ford F-150 recall: Fault could cause vehicle to downshift into first gear

Ford is recalling 1.48 million F-150 vehicles over a potential fault that could cause it to suddenly downshift into first gear. The automaker said it's currently aware of five accidents related to the issue.

Volkswagen’s hot-rodded T-Roc R is ready to shred its tires to confetti

Volkswagen released a teaser sketch to preview a hot-rodded SUV named T-Roc R. Insiders suggest it will be closely related to the mighty Golf R, meaning it will pack a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at about 300…

Tesla’s Dog Mode lets good Samaritans know that Fido’s A-OK

Tesla's latest over-the-air software update adds two features called Sentry Mode and Dog Mode. Sentry Mode records footage and alerts the owner if someone breaks in, while Dog Mode runs the A/C so owners can safely keep their dogs in their…

Rock out in the carpool lane with Singing Machine’s Carpool Karaoke microphone

Carpool Karaoke fans can count down the days till summer. That's when Singing Machine's Carpool Karaoke microphone will be available. Connect the Carpool Karaoke Mic to your car radio to make your next road trip a mobile karaoke party.

Bentley Bentayga Speed surpasses Lamborghini Urus as world’s fastest SUV

The Bentley Bentayga Speed has wrested the title of world's fastest SUV from its cousin, the Lamborghini Urus. But the Bentley is just 1 mph faster than the Lamborghini. It requires 626 horsepower to achieve that top speed.
Emerging Tech

With CabinSense, cars will soon know who’s riding in them and respond accordingly

What if your car could know who's riding in it and customize the entertainment and safety options accordingly? That’s what's promised by the new CabinSense in-car Occupancy Monitoring System.

General Motors cycles into a new market with its first-ever ebikes

When General Motors launched a public campaign last year to name its new ebike brand, many wondered if Bikey McBikeface might win out. But it didn't. Instead, it's called Arīv, and the two bikes are up for pre-order this week.
Product Review

The 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country is a do-it-all Swedish army knife

Volvo laced up its smallest station wagon in hiking clothes to create the V60 Cross Country. It's a lifted, all-wheel drive wagon that laughs at icy roads while coddling its occupants. We travel to Sweden to try it out.