Audi’s Top Designer on the Coming Design Revolution and Why Electric Cars Don’t Need to Look Electric

Marc Lichte has wild hair. It’s not quite as wild as Albert Einstein’s famous locks; it’s shorter and obviously well kempt, but not altogether dis- similar, and it gives Lichte the air of a creative person, which he certainly is. As the head of design for Audi, he is the man ultimately responsible for every car and SUV the company has made since he took the job in 2014. 

Lichte was born in Germany in 1969, and joined Volkswagen’s design department while still pursuing his degree at the Pforzheim University of Applied Science. In other words, he’s been drawing cars his whole life, but he says his latest work – the all-electric Audi e-tron GT – is the most attractive car he has ever drawn. “The basis for good design is proportions, and these proportions are simply awesome,” says Lichte. “Let me explain with a sketch,” he says, drawing the new e-tron GT live on a video call. “Since I was a young boy, when I sketch cars – and I’m always sketching cars, even if I’m sitting in a meeting with the board members – I start with the wheels.

We have to have big wheels.” Next, he explains that electric cars can have very low hoods since you don’t need to make space for a big combustion engine, and that they managed to keep the car’s roofline so low by making cutouts for the rear seats in the underfloor battery pack. Lichte’s especially proud of the extremely wide rear haunches on this car, which make it look muscular and planted on the road. And while the GT is much lower than the sleek Audi A7, it’s still a spacious four-door sedan. “Even a tall guy like me, I have enough headroom,” Lichte says, still drawing. The thing about electric vehicles is nobody yet knows what they’re supposed to look like. While that gives designers plenty of freedom, it’s not always good. “Our competitors came up with some, I would say, bizarre and strange design language [for their EVs] because they wanted to visualize, ‘Hello! Have a look! I’m an EV!’ but our approach is different,” says Lichte. “EVs at Audi will be the most attractive cars – that’s it.” 

Do electric vehicles need to announce that they’re electric, or should they simply look good? It’s clear which side of the debate Lichte is on, but that doesn’t mean electric cars will look the same as what’s on the road today. “I can share with you a secret about Project Arte- mis. It’s a car which is made for long distance travel in the super high-premi- um segment,” says Lichte. (The vehicle’s rumoured codename is Landjet.) “It’s more or less a successor to the A8,” Lichte explains, although he promises that it will look radically different. 

When it comes to promises, Lichte has always kept his. His beautiful 2014 Prologue concept promised to move the brand forward in a fresh, new, avant-garde direction, and it did. The original e-tron GT concept, first shown in 2018, looks identical to the produc- tion car unveiled earlier this year. And we agree with Lichte; it’s the most at- tractive car he’s ever drawn, and maybe even the best-looking car Audi has ever made. Based on Lichte’s track record, it’s impossible not get excited by the prospect of Project Artemis.