As the automotive industry shifts toward an era beyond the internal combustion engine (ICE), designers are increasingly thinking about how the shape of the car can and should evolve once freed from the physical constraints of the traditional powertrain. Most of the battery-powered vehicles we’ve seen to date are clearly evolutions of the familiar shapes we see on the road. Some upstarts like Canoo have taken on the task of a complete rethink although the resulting aesthetics are questionable. Audi is now heading down this path as well with a series of three upcoming design concepts with the first two coming at Pebble Beach in August and the IAA show in Munich in September.
So far, the production electric models from Audi including the e-Tron, Q4 e-Tron and e-Tron GT all have shapes that could just as easily contain an ICE. The new concept series will try to show the planned next phase of Audi design as envisioned by the 450 people working at the brands three studios in Ingolstadt, Germany, Malibu, California and Beijing, China. Each of the three is intended to fill a distinct roll, but each is built a common central theme, the sphere.
The sphere is seen by Audi is a living space, the world that surrounds the occupants where they can choose to work, relax or be entertained. It’s also described as the living sphere of the car, the connection between the inside and outside.
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The first of the concepts will be shown in early August during Monterey car week and it will be known as Sky Sphere which will presumably feature some sort of open or glass roof design, exposing that living space to the world outside. Debuting something like this in sunny California is a perfect fit. The third concept that will appear is the Urban Sphere, a vehicle targeted at mobility in the 21st century megacity like Beijing. Aside from the names, no other details have been provided on these concepts.
In between, will be the Grand Sphere arriving in September in Munich. Audi has released some teaser sketches that provide some clues about the design direction. Based on the profile this appears to be a sort of grand touring shooting brake with a very short front end and almost no overhang beyond the wheels. The absence of an engine allows the bulkhead and instrument panel to be moved well forward and moved away from the driver and front passenger.
With the potential for some degree of automated driving, at least on highways in the coming years, the front seats have far more travel and recline capability than has been the norm. Unlike the 2017 AI:Con concept which was envisioned as a purely level 5 full automated vehicle with no human driving controls, the Grand Sphere is meant for level4 where it can be selectively automated under certain conditions.
The AI:Con went even further than the Grand Sphere in pushing the glass out to the corners since visibility for driving wasn’t an issue. On the new concept, there is a bit more practicality with keeping the A-pillars closer to the driver to minimize the blind spots when in manual driving mode.
At least for the concept, the overall interior theme is minimalist but not entirely stark. For example, within the console of this luxury GT car is a refreshment center with a pair of cups. This is enabled by the flat floor with the battery below and no need for a central driveshaft. When transitioning to driven moden controls and switches are designed to be adjustable when the seat is reclined so that they can still be reached. Something like the Grand Sphere is expected to come to production around mid-decade.
The Grand Sphere will make its full public debut at the IAA Mobility event in Munich which runs September 7-12, replacing the former Frankfurt Motor Show.