The day after the premiere of the new Audi A8 in Miami, I decided to walk to a highly praised burger joint a few miles from my hotel. As I walked the streets of Miami Beach I was struck by the harmonious integration classic Art Deco styling and state-of-the-art glass and steel structures, each with its own unique presence. It got me thinking about how design can make the difference between a vehicle becoming an integral part of recorded history, or just a passing mention.
Lately it seems like some auto manufacturers have just given up on innovative aesthetics and instead rely on technological innovations to sell their cars. I can understand their fear; one bad design can bring an entire company to its knees. But relying on utilitarian design motifs and small facelifts to get through the next model year can result in the same failure. It only takes a glance at the 2011 A8 to know that Audi has progressively moved forward the car's evolution, outdoing its already accomplished predecessor to engineer what will soon become a design icon.
The secret to Audi's success is a synergetic design process that lets automotive designers, technical engineers, interior designers, ergonomists, environmentalists, craftsmen, and so on collaborate and contribute to every aspect of the vehicle. The exterior and interior of the new sedan reflects this synergy in seamless blending of form and function-artistic design meets innovative technology. One example lies in the novel LED headlamp design. Headlights really only need to serve one function: to light the road. And though the use of LEDs is not new, the integration of 22 LEDs in a Nike-esque swoosh pattern in combination with different technological implements, like a reflector system to scatter light beams for various lighting functions, creates a whole new category of headlight. And all this just for a headlight.
While the focus on design is obvious, the massive amount of manufacturing-drivetrain, safety, entertainment, electronics-lurking below the vehicle's aluminum skin is a different story. This is one occasion where the old adage of beauty being more than just skin deep is valid.
Audi chose the perfect arena to hold the event, since the Fontainebleau Hotel itself has a legendary design history. It was also fitting that Audi decided to show its next-generation flagship to the world at an exhibit inspired by the A8 itself, an event entitled the Art of Progress, at the annual Art Basel design show in the Design Miami forum.
Since we were not yet allowed to test drive the car, it was clear that Audi wanted the focus to be on the A8's visual presence versus its performance. Because let's face it, when it comes to performance, handling, and interior amenities that create a totally sensory, tactile environment, Audi has nothing to prove.
The 2011 Audi A8 is scheduled to hit U.S. shores in late 2010 and will be available in both short- and long-wheelbase versions.