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Shapeshifting from roadster to lounge on wheels

The Audi skysphere concept¹ is a car with dual characters. Audi designers Charles Lefranc and Gael Buzyn talk to us about its progressive design dedicated to two different worlds.

09/13/2021 Text: AUDI AG - Video: AUDI AG Reading Time: 6 min

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

Thanks to a wheelbase that adjusts by 25 centimeters, the Audi skysphere¹ can change from Sports to Grand Touring mode and back. ¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

One design, two configurations

“We designed the Audi skysphere¹ with a variable wheelbase in mind right from the start - which was no mean feat. This created major challenges in getting the proportions for the exterior design right in relation to the short and long wheelbase. Therefore, it was critical to the design process to constantly consider and compare the two configurations. That was the only way we could be sure the roof was balanced, the cabin proportions harmonised with the body and the wheel sizes fitted both the long and short wheelbase configurations. Designing a cabin that is too small for a long wheelbase but looks great with a short one can happen. And the opposite is also true. A long wheelbase entices designers to draw bigger wheels, but then the car with a shorter wheelbase looks like a cartoon. Admittedly, it took a lot of going back and forth on the proportions until the design came together as an uncompromising whole. We kept on honing the design until the proportions for both configurations finally worked.”

- Charles Lefranc

 

As Design Manager at the Audi Design Loft in Malibu, Charles Lefranc is responsible for the exterior design of the Audi skysphere concept¹.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

The Prestige Panel is the key design element. The virtual wing mirrors sit at the fender’s top edge. The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

The design magic behind the Prestige Panel

“The Prestige Panel is a key element in the car’s transformation. It disappears completely from view when the Audi skysphere¹ is in Sports mode and the car adopts the proportions of a highly agile, athletic vehicle with a reduced wheelbase. When the wheelbase is extended in Grand Touring mode, the Prestige Panel appears and is far more than just an indication of the car’s current configuration. It also balances the vehicle proportions. With its graphic styling, it slows the eye’s progress and prevents the “stretched” car from appearing to sag. As a divider between the car’s front end and cabin, the Prestige Panel is also molded to the edge of the rear-hinged door. This door design affords occupants a natural, elegant entry into the Audi skysphere¹. We made a conscious decision not to position the virtual wing mirrors on the doors or A-pillar as usual, placing them instead at the front end - the part of the vehicle that slides back when transitioning to the short wheelbase. They sit atop the beautiful fender, above the Prestige Panel, crowning it almost like jewels. It’s a detail that I really love.”

- Charles Lefranc

Striking proportions

“On approaching the Audi skysphere¹, the car’s proportions are the first thing to catch your eye. Prestige was definitely a design priority. The long hood, which curves down very low, and the cabin’s position further back are instrumental in creating that grand touring feel. We like the teardrop shape and striking proportions. Since the Audi skysphere¹ is a roadster, it has a small cabin that is completely open to the elements. We opted for a fabric instead of a hard top to enclose it because we think that not only adds extra glamor but also lends the design more warmth. Since the broad quattro muscles are paramount on any Audi, it goes without saying that they also feature on the Audi skysphere¹. The horizontal wrap-around ties the whole car together. Extending from the door before fading out and reappearing at the rear, it encircles the entire body and clearly accentuates the nose.”

- Charles Lefranc

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

The Audi skysphere¹ is a roadster with striking proportions that marries a speedster’s aerodynamic looks with the practicality of a shooting brake. ¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

Form and function

“What I really love about the Audi skysphere¹ is that it marries a speedster’s aerodynamic looks with the practicality of a shooting brake. This is very much in keeping with the Audi philosophy - no compromises when it comes to practicality. Of course, this is an electric vehicle so there is no engine beneath the hood. Instead, there’s a luggage compartment big enough to accommodate two golf bags. At the tail, the glass trunk cover puts its contents on display as if in a showcase. To complete the picture, we also designed two overnight bags specially for this concept car. They fit here perfectly.”

- Gael Buzyn

 

As Senior Director at the Audi Design Loft in Malibu, Gael Buzyn designed the Audi skysphere concept¹ together with his team.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

The glass trunk cover looks like a display case for the occupants’ luggage. The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

Taking on a new look

The wheelbase’s extension and contraction are perfectly synchronised with the interior where a lot happens when changing the driving configuration. In Grand Touring mode¹ with the long wheelbase, the driver’s seat basically becomes another passenger seat¹, allowing the occupant to sit back and watch as the car drives itself. However the real magic happens when the Audi skysphere¹ morphs to a short wheelbase. The wheelbase’s contraction moves the steering wheel and all elements needed for driving, such as the pedals, closer to the driver in a seamless and natural way. At the same time, the right-hand seat slides back so that, as the driver, you no longer have that somewhat constricted perspective of two adjacent seats but rather a wholly different driving experience.”

- Charles Lefranc

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model. The automated driving functions shown are technologies currently under development, are not available for production vehicles and only work within system limits. All possible uses of the technical systems and functions shown represent only a possible concept and are dependent on the respective legal regulations in the relevant country.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model. The automated driving functions shown are technologies currently under development, are not available for production vehicles and only work within system limits. All possible uses of the technical systems and functions shown represent only a possible concept and are dependent on the respective legal regulations in the relevant country.

When the Audi skysphere¹ converts from Sports to Grand Touring mode, the steering wheel, pedals and controls move back¹ and the right-hand seat slides forward. ¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model. The automated driving functions shown are technologies currently under development, are not available for production vehicles and only work within system limits. All possible uses of the technical systems and functions shown represent only a possible concept and are dependent on the respective legal regulations in the relevant country.

Lounge-like interior

“Rather than a conventional cabin, I wanted an architectural feel for the interior of the Audi skysphere¹. During the design phase, we dug deep into Art Deco. In the process, I discovered so many beautiful pieces of furniture and objects that we decided all the interior’s elements should take their cue from this era. Sitting inside the Audi skysphere¹ feels like being in a chic lounge on wheels rather than a typical car interior. All the materials used to finish the interior pay homage to this car’s birthplace - southern California. The wood is eucalyptus. Dubbed Blue Agave, the interior colour is inspired by the plant of the same name that’s endemic to southern California. And there are other thoughtful touches, such as the cashmere blanket behind the driver’s seat for passengers to snuggle up in. Or the driving gloves that lie ready above the instrument cluster. Putting on those gloves and taking hold of the steering wheel gives the driver a majestic feeling. It’s a wondrous moment. We wanted to retain that roadster ritual.”

- Gael Buzyn

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

The architectural design of the Audi skysphere¹ interior gives it a lounge-like feel. ¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

Keeping an eye on the future

Keeping an eye on the future

The Audi skysphere concept¹ is only the first in a whole range of concept vehicles and ideas with which Audi aims to redefine tomorrow’s mobility.

Learn more

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

¹The vehicle shown here is a concept car that is not available as a production model.

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