Audi A8 debut at the 2002 Paris Motor Show.
Click for larger images
Every vehicle design development story is unique, but the development of the new Audi A8 is in many ways an archetypal example of a new vehicle design programme, touching on so many of the issues that impact on the vehicle design process.
The design had to build on the strengths and address the weaknesses of its predecessor, respond to changes in the market, position itself relative to a new sibling brand product (the Volkswagen Phaeton), relate to the rest of the Audi range and establish new design and brand identity cues for future Audis.
The starting point for the new D3 A8 was the original D2 A8 of 1994, the first Audi to compete fully in a class defined by the Mercedes S-class as well as being the world's first volume produced aluminium bodied car. The D2 A8's design was critically acclaimed at launch, but other than scale there were few design features or proportions to distinguish it from the A4 of the same period, and this is likely to have been a contributory reason for its relatively low sales. For the new A8 to improve on its predecessor's sales rate, the whole research and development team felt that a more focused, less 'all things to all men' identity was needed, which fitted with expressing a new more dynamic Audi character that the brand aspired to within the Volkswagen Group.
Recognizing the customer-facing logic of evolutionary-not-revolutionary design changes was also part of the initial design brief set by the team, as was building on the strengths of the D2, cited by exterior design team leader Dany Garand as timeless, elegant, having a high quality feeling and a good stance.
Starting in 1997 (a year before the launch of the current S-class Mercedes) the whole Audi design studio based in Ingolstadt was invited to contribute sketch proposals, from which about a dozen different themes emerged. Of these, six were developed into full size clay models (worked up in the traditional way adjacent to full size tape drawings) with at least three one quarter scale models produced to explore other design variations.
The six full size exterior clays were reduced to two in late 1998 and these continued to be refined in parallel for a year until the end of 1999 when the final theme selection was made, with Miclos Kovacs and Imre Hasanic the main contributing designers. This long development time was in part due to the body being made from aluminium, a material less able to take the small radii of sharp feature lines such as those on the new (steel bodied) A4.