Last week’s Los Angeles Auto Show brought the debut of an assortment of new battery-based cars, trucks and crossovers, a broad list including the Audi e-tron Sportback, a coupe-like SUV set to be the German marque’s second entry into the emerging market.
The Sportback will follow the more boxy e-tron SUV that became Audi’s first all-electric model to reach U.S. showrooms earlier this year, with the e-tron GT sports car set to follow about a year later. Audi has broadly hinted it has even more all-electric products in the pipeline, though it has yet to announce where they’ll fit in its line-up.
As with Tesla, Audi’s new battery-electric vehicles will rely on skateboard-like platforms that mount their batteries and motors below the load floor, an approach that frees up space that would traditionally be used for the engine compartment. But where Tesla has opted for increasingly radical exterior designs – as last week’s debut of the Cybertruck pickup demonstrated, Audi has opted for fairly conservative and conventional designs for its first long-range BEVs, at least for its first entry, the e-tron SUV.
Audi design chief Marc Lichte showed off a more radical side to EV design with the Audi AI:TRAIL quattro concept that debuted at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show. (Photo: Audi)
Ride spoke to Marc Lichte about his approach to EV styling and why Audi’s 50-year-old head of design, who is known for pushing the boundaries on other projects, took such a cautious approach with the first e-tron model.
Q: It’s been said that the rise of the EV really will give automotive designers a lot more freedom and flexibility than conventional automotive products.
A: It will be very different. We’re working on a huge portfolio of electric vehicles (and it’s) a very exciting time to design cars right now.
Q: It also puts new requirements on designers doesn’t it?
A: It does. You have to increase the aerodynamics of battery vehicles because that is a critical factor in improving range. And there are other challenges you have to work around.
Q: Such as?
A: To get the range people want you have to have a huge battery pack. And that impacts the dimensions of a vehicle.”
Q: What are some of the ways that will play out in terms of what we see in future EV design?
A: You will see shorter overhangs on vehicles. They will have to be more aerodynamic. And, inside, you will see more space because you can take some away from where (a traditional car’s internal combustion) engine once was. Also, because you don’t have a driveline running from the engine you won’t see the big hump in the middle of the car, and that can change the way the interior is laid out.
Q: You mention all the ways that electric vehicle design will change, but that isn’t really apparent with Audi’s first long-range EV, the e-tron SUV. You almost can’t tell it apart from one of your regular SUVs, like the Q5 or Q8. Why not?
A: We wanted people to feel more comfortable with our vehicles…to have them catch up at first. But, step-by-step, our EVs will become more progressive. You see it a little more with the new e-tron Sportback and will really begin to see that when the e-tron GT comes to market (around two years from now).