Rarely does Ingolstadt’s caution generate prototypes that are markedly forward looking, imaginative, far removed from the tried and tested perfection of the production lines: in the face of the fervour that imbibes every branch of the automotive industry, the last few years of the Four Rings seem punctuated only by timid examples of this (including the 2017 Aicon and Elaine, the 2019 AI:ME and AI:TRAIL). This time, however, things are different. «I’ve never seen so much interest in our futuristic proposals, both from industry insiders and within the company», Marc Lichte, head of design, reveals enthusiastically. «We’ve nailed it».
A focus on on-board comfort
The essence of the two concepts – Skysphere and Grandsphere, to which a third will be added next spring – revolves entirely around the relationship between autonomous driving and unprecedented on-board living perspectives, using the suffix “-sphere” to communicate an entire universe of possible uses. «While electrification is an established feature for us, what happens when the driver becomes a passenger in turn is a horizon yet to be explored», the designer states.
A glimpse into the past
However, the traditional layout, a typological audacity in the crossover era, is underpinned by the ultra-modern technical feature of the variable 25 centimetre wheelbase, which makes it possible to travel in an agile open-top car suitable for curves (to be driven manually) or a grand tourer without a rooftop that is very much geared towards comfort (and entirely entrusted to electronics). However, Lichte emphasises that «the extensive technological research does not in any way make the Skysphere, although fully functional, any closer to production: the aim is to evoke the soul of the German cars of the past in a show car, naturally prepped with an exterior that is completely devoid of retro excesses, hence timeless».
On the contrary, the Grandsphere introduced in September at the Monaco Motor Show might conceal further developments: «The footprint is highly reminiscent of the current A8, but the cabin, from which we started for the design, has been changed into a flexible and highly welcoming space. An idea of “progressive luxury”, as we say here, that foreshadows much of the car of tomorrow». As if, in some way, we were peering into a fragment of the future.
Certainly, underneath the generous silhouette that looks like a five-door coupé, «but built with proportions between volumes that I have never seen before», there is a reversal of the functional canons of today’s flagship models, in which the first row of seats takes on the greatest importance (thanks to the absence of a driver) and can slide back to define an environment of absolute, opulent relaxation during self-drive journeys.
Waiting for the third concept for the city
In anticipation of the more compact Urbansphere, designed by the Beijing style centre (the Grandsphere was created in Ingolstadt and the Skysphere in Malibu), there is also a final comment on the fronts: «When cars will be moving around on their own, they will send messages to pedestrians through an LED system, so the headlights will have to stand out among the many light impulses. That’s why we’ve developed an “eye-pupil” graphic design that will soon be available on the mass production line». A final glimpse into the future.