Why do car companies build concepts? Ask the Audi product blueprint

Zoom / From left to right, Skysphere, Grandsphere and Urbansphere concept cars.

Audi

MONTEREY, CALIF. After being freed from the constraints of road legality legislation, it is clear what car designers get to make concept cars. But car designers don’t run car companies, and in a company with such tight margins, there must be a financial necessity to bother creating a car that may never see production.

which is there. Running the gamut from next year’s model in slight disguise all the way to “none of this yet but wouldn’t be great” fantasy rides, the concepts serve as a way to gauge the tastes of the general public when it comes to something new. At this year’s Quail at Monterey Car Week, I spoke with Filip Brabec, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Audi of America, to get a perspective of the suits on concept cars.

The Skysphere wheelbase grows by 250mm when shifted to the standalone mode.
Zoom / The Skysphere wheelbase grows by 250mm when shifted to the standalone mode.

Jonathan Gitlin

Specifically, I wanted to know what the process looks like from the practical side of the business. For example, does the design team come up with a new concept as a fait accompli? As it turns out, that’s not at all how it works.

“So first of all, it’s not a process of different steps; it’s more organic in the sense that we usually brainstorm these things together,” Brabec told me. “So what we do I think is really good with Gael [Buzyn, Audi of America’s senior design director] Team, do we look at the market together, we look at the sectors, and we say, “Gee, that’s going to be kind of cool.” So we brainstorm together somehow.”

While changing the bodywork is a long way off, this interior is not.
Zoom / While changing the bodywork is a long way off, this interior is not.

Jonathan Gitlin

“And that’s good because it kind of gets them to do certain things. And then we leave them alone. Then they kind of do their own operation. Then something comes up. And it’s an idea, usually, and now together again, we start building on that idea.” . What if we did this? What if we did that?” Brabec said.

As you may have noticed, some model cars are closer to reality than others. “So if you look at Skysphere, or even if you look at PB18, you might say, ‘Well, that’s a little further in terms of reality, right?'” ” 2018 PB18 And last year’s Skysphere both rely on technologies not yet ready, such as solid-state batteries and autonomous driving. Each features ideas that may never appear in a production car, such as a driver’s seat that moves to the car’s centerline or a wheelbase that grows by nearly a foot.

“But if you look at the space world, you can say, ‘Well, I can imagine making that car,'” Brabec continued. Unveiled last September, It is a handsome and futuristic big touring car. “And now, we can take out elements of that and say, ‘OK, where can we apply these?’ “But it’s also in line with the next style trend, too.”

“What we almost never do, certainly not with Gayle, ‘Oh, there he is. Picture, now, what are we going to do with it? “It’s always organic. And then we think about it from a business case point of view, because that’s really the next step: trying to figure out can I market this? Or is it just a great idea, but at $2 million no one is going to buy,” he explained.

The newest concept of the field is Urbansphere, designed with major Chinese cities and traffic in mind. It’s a big EV beast, with a massive interior that takes the Grandsphere’s luxurious front seats and puts another pair in the back. But the potential market for that EV could be the future version of someone buying a Q7 today.

“That’s one way to think about it. Sure. And there, we can have a long discussion. But then there’s another kind of aspect to saying, ‘OK, but can I use this as a transportation that is used more as a service?” ‘ There are ways of thinking about it that we don’t necessarily just have to immediately consumer. That’s why I stay open about it,” he explained.

We may not have telescope steering wheels out of the way for some time, but I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this in future production Audis.
Zoom / We may not have telescope steering wheels out of the way for some time, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this in future production Audis.

Jonathan Gitlin

But it is not all futuristic. Even on high concepts like these. “I can tell you that all cars have elements that we use in our future cars – without arguing, you’ll soon see the first bits of how it all starts to look. Lighting elements, interior elements and various things that we definitely are already employing in our next cars,” Brabec said.