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Face First

The Audi A6’s bold new grille is the new face for the entire Audi family.

 Audi’s Achim Badstubner
Achim Badstubner, lead designer for Audi’s new A6 sedan, strides confidently to the podium, takes out pencil and pad and begins to speak. As he describes the creation of a new custom suit for Audi’s all-new midrange sedan and sketches it line by line, it’s projected on the screen behind him. We envision him selling this design concept in exactly this fashion to his company’s leadership team in a wood and leather-lined conference room.

“A new product is a sketch pad plus a sharp pencil plus a vision,” he says, then begins by outlining the front of the outgoing ’04 A6, a clean and handsome but dated design. Then he sketches the ’05’s bold new look over it.

“A premium car is recognized by its face,” he asserts, connecting the grille’s top and bottom sections over what had been the ’04’s bumper. He adds sharp creases angling from the base of each A-pillar to the lower valence to define a subtly domed hood and nose. “You can see the muscle in the fenders and the big, big tires,” he adds with a grin. “This is about overtaking prestige on the autobahn. If you see this face in the mirror, you pull over quick.”

He flips the page and starts sketching the rear. “It’s very important that if you remove the Audi rings, people will know what it is.” The changes from the ’04 are evolutionary but significant. The taillamps are lowered and connected by a slim chrome strip. The deck’s lower edge is angled at the corners, a subtle spoiler caps its upper edge, and a blacked-out lower valence frames prominent dual exhausts. “The most important element of the old Audi was its roofline,” Badstubner continues, flipping the page to start a new sketch: “For the new A6, we said, ‘Let’s do a 4-door coupe.’” It’s a little larger than the old one, with more room inside, yet sportier due to bigger wheels and a “dynamic up-climbing lower sill line” that combines with a slightly down-curving shoulder to define a wing-shaped bodyside under the gracefully arcing Audi roof. “We feel the passion of this design,” he concludes, laying down the pencil.

We ask whether the A6’s new frontal look, with its not universally appreciated hood-to-valence gaping mouth (which will soon adorn Audi’s entire line, including the next-generation TT sports car) might be risky for a maker known for sleek, conservative style. “If you do something new,” he responds, “there’s always risk that some won’t like it. But we are very sure that most of our customers like a strong, self-confident face, and that’s what we have now. Audi always progresses. We don’t stand still. If you want to lead, you have to lead in some direction, and that’s what we did. It communicates the power and sportiness of the car.

 Badstubner’s sketch of the new A6’s distinctive new face
“This will definitely be a family face. If you are a premium brand, you need some key features where the customer can see he belongs to the family. The single frame [grille] will be one of those features. Also, the dynamic rocker line climbing up to the rear bumper. We thought the A6 is a very self-confident, strong design that has been copied a lot, and there is a lot of intellectual capital invested in it that we wanted to retain. But the surface and line treatments are revolutionary for us, much more emotional and passionate, not as static as the car before.”

How does he sell bold changes to the company’s leadership? “It’s not always easy, but you have to keep on trying. You have to have a strong vision, and that strong vision has to be carried through. It needs models to convince management that our vision is correct, and it needs a lot of time, sweat and tears to finally create a car that shows that vision on the street. That’s the most important thing. If you see that vision in the car, then we’ve achieved it. “Actually, in this case, it was a fairly easy sell. Everybody was convinced pretty quick. But there were a lot of competing concepts. In the whole process, we did 12 full-size models … then, step by step, cut some cars out. In the end we had two significantly different cars, and we used some features of the other car combined with this one.

“This is the first car communicating a new design language for Audi, the first car showing more emotion in our product, and it adds more value to the brand.”

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Sun. July 21st, 2024

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