Revolution, not just evolution
To demonstrate the need for his revolution, Enzo Rothfuss shows us two pictures. One of a pop concert in 2005: The audience is holding lighters aloft. The other is of a pop concert in 2015: Here, not a single lighter glows above the heads of the crowd—instead there’s nothing but illuminated smartphone screens. “This is a case in point for the way that technology has changed our societies and all of our lives over the past decade. Screens and touch operation are the norm—a part of everyday life. It’s only logical that this technology is also reflected in cars.
Inside a secret hall in Ingolstadt’s industrial district, Enzo Rothfuss, head of interior design at Audi, gives us a tour of the passenger compartment in the new Audi A8. His eyes light up, he gestures with his hands and talks a mile a minute. Excitement oozes from his every pore. After all, this is “his” interior. It’s also the first of its kind and signals the way forward for tomorrow’s models. He is very emphatic that “this is not just an evolutionary step but a revolutionary one.
”The obvious need to include touch screens inside the car served as both the inspiration and challenge to rethink everything in the interior. Marc Lichte, head of Audi design, provided Rothfuss with a deceptively simple brief: “I want an interior where the screens are integrated in a way that you don’t even identify them as such.” It proved a complex task. Touch screens in a car must not only be within reach of the occupants but also permanently available. Since they then can’t be designed to be stowed away, it’s inevitable that they directly define the interior architecture.
Freestanding screens were consequently no longer an option. As Rothfuss explains, “Individual elements distract from the overall composition and impede paring everything down to the essentials.” Black panels are the solution that finally satisfied the designers: “When the displays are switched off, all the panels throughout the interior look like a single, highly polished surface. You can’t tell where the screens have been built in. As an added bonus, there’s the surprise effect—because you only realize just how big the screen is when it springs to life.” Rothfuss appears almost devotional as he strokes the glossy surfaces.
Global digitalization is also reflected in the forward-looking interior design of the Audi A8. Control and display areas merge into interactive surfaces that form part of the architecture. Functions and buttons are uncompromisingly integrated into the black panels.
„This is not just an evolutionary step but a revolutionary one.“
As far as the technology goes, the touch screens are, of course, state of the art: The high-resolution displays feature precise, minimalist graphics, swipe-gesture operation familiar from computer tablets and haptic feedback to minimize the need for the driver to shift his gaze. Grinning, Enzo Rothfuss mentions, “We can also update the graphics so the car’s technology remains contemporary for a long time.” The background for all the graphics is black. “As jet black as the panels themselves. Not a halfhearted black like you get on a TV in stand-by mode,” says the interior designer. And customers needn’t worry about leaving fingerprints on the gorgeous black surfaces. All the displays as well as the black panel surfaces are covered with a clear, anti-fingerprint coating whose anti-static properties also prevent dust from collecting.
The designer succeeded in integrating the displays into the interior architecture by using a clever trick: A strip separates the upper instrument cluster from the second screen below it. “The instrument panel remains broad and generous, but slim and light rather than bulky thanks to the divider in the architecture,” explains Rothfuss. After all, displays must also always dovetail with the overall design, marry functionality with sophisticated aesthetic principles and reflect the car’s personality.
According to the designer, the character of the new Audi A8 can be summed up as: “Expansive—a sumptuous sense of spaciousness and status. Timeless elegance—in ten years’ time, this interior will still look fantastic. There’s nothing trendy or fleetingly faddish about it. Clarity—a design is only good when it can be explained with three lines. It takes only three lines to capture the Eiffel Tower or Sydney Opera House. The Audi A8 with its black control panels, the gestures to operate them and the interior architecture around the panels can all also be reduced to three lines. Among the crème de la crème of upper class sedans in the premium class, the Audi A8 represents top quality in every detail.”
This nose-to-tail approach to quality means that Audi has also equipped the interior with the very latest technology. Just one example of this is the newly designed inside door-opening mechanism. Rothfuss takes a seat behind the steering wheel in the new Audi A8, closes the door and places his index finger behind the door handle. Reaching up—two millimeter to be exact—with a fingertip is all it takes to open the door electrically. It’s a clean, contemporary, cutting-edge solution.
Then there’s the design of the air outlets in the front panel. During normal operation, these are completely concealed by a flush-mounted cover strip. The result is tidy and elegant. The cover slides back and the air outlets move forward into alignment with the panel surface only when the temperature in the vehicle is adjusted or an increase in air supply is required. As Enzo Rothfuss says, “It’s a minor detail but a real stroke of genius. No one wants to be permanently staring down air outlets in a upper class car. It’s perfect testimony to the power of high tech. This is how we’re bringing Vorsprung durch Technik to life.”
The new interior is shaped by quality workmanship and digital precision. Full of character and authenticity, beautiful materials bring the design idiom to life. With careful crafting, these come together in a perfect symbiosis that epitomizes luxury.
„It’s perfect testimony to the power of high tech. This is how we’re bringing Vorsprung durch Technik to life.“
Simple elegance and recurrent design principles guide the use of elements, shapes and themes that reference each other as they are woven together to create an incredible sense of spaciousness in both the length and width of the interior.
The significance and expectations of interior design have increased greatly. Cutting-edge digital technology makes driving safer and more comfortable. But as a counterpoint to the rational thinking that motivates high-tech solutions in an Audi, customers also want to be appealed to on an emotional level. (Interior) design responds to this need, inspiring passion. Rothfuss points out that “Aesthetics in vehicle interiors are becoming even more important. I want customers to keep rediscovering the car, experiencing it in new ways, noticing how cool this seam is here or that detail there.” By way of example, the designer points out one of his favorite things on the new Audi A8. It’s the spot where the front panel merges with the door on the passenger side. “I love this corner! The panel is very elegantly integrated—like a precious stone in a ring setting.
”Rothfuss climbs out of the Audi A8, circles the car to open the right-hand rear door and takes a seat again. “Just look at the length of the door,” he raves from the seat that, especially in the long version, is usually reserved for the boss. In the back, too, occupants are surrounded by black panels with the optional addition of wood trim and chrome strips in the front seats’ backrests. There’s also a media player in the center console (optional extra) which lets passengers in the rear control many of the vehicle’s functions, including the air supply. The center console’s curved contours echo the dynamic of the center console in front. Enzo Rothfuss points out, “A lot of time and effort went into that. Here especially, it’s essential that whatever is in front of me must be high quality. I always say, what the car exterior promises has to be followed through on the inside. For an upper class car like the Audi A8, that means prestige, length and clarity. The interplay of materials and shapes must produce that eureka moment in the interior.
”Elated, Enzo Rothfuss exits the opulent rear of the new Audi A8. Visibly pleased with the new-generation Audi interior, he lets his thoughts leap into the future: “All of tomorrow’s cars will bear this unmistakable interior signature. But each individual model will express its own personality much more strongly than before. For instance, there’ll soon be nothing sportier than …” Hang on a second—that’s a story for another day …