Infra Dignitatem

Ingolstadt presents ‘the off-roader of the future’. What fresh hell is this?

(c) Auto-Didakt

There has been, I’m reliably informed, a discernible atmosphere of fin de siècle about this year’s Frankfurt motor show; in the curiously underpopulated halls, the appearance of evident cost-cutting amongst some of the larger OEMs, not to mention a marked bi-polarity in the semantics being proffered, particularly by the home team.

But while the metaphorical (and to some eyes, actual) barbarians mass outside the gates, inside the bacchanal continues unabated – at least in some quarters. Volkswagen came to Frankfurt decked in the colours of renewal – the message being, “we’re not that VW anymore – look, we’ve even got a new logo”.

However, over at their Munich-based upmarket atelier, the atmosphere (to this non-attendee at least) suggested more of a fetish-club, with an array of over-inflated, pumped and be-vented muscle machines displaying varying levels of visual ‘roid-rage’.

So as Wolfsburg debuted their pure as the driven snowflake, do-or-die EV pathfinder, Ingolstadt served up something else entirely. But what? Perhaps we should start by asking how Audi design director, Marc Lichte characterises his Frankfurt centrepiece?

With the AI : TRAIL, we are showing an off-road concept with an emissions-free electric drive for an innovative driving experience away from paved roads. Consistent with this, we designed a monolithic basic vehicle body with maximum glazing to create an intense connection to the surroundings. A concept for sustainable mobility on demand.” Everybody clear now?

Lichte, speaking to Autocar expounded upon AI : TRAIL’s (what shall we call it?) rationale? “In future, we will change from owning to accessing a car. If you can order your car for a specific use, this will change the design of our cars. You can design with no compromises. The AI : Trail is how we imagine a future Audi SUV could look – we will see the invisible belt line (where the windows change angle) in a production car in less than five years.

It would take too long (and I’m really not bothered) to list the multiplicity of farcical features embodied within this concept, but one I did feel compelled to highlight. Apparently, the two rear cradle seats have been designed in such a way as to allow them to be removed and hung, in the words of Audi’s, we assume, generously-remunerated design leader, “between two trees, perhaps”.

Open plan living. (c) Auto-Didakt

Wait, there’s more. Not only is this device allegedly capable of Level 4 autonomy – after all, when offroading, who of us hasn’t thought, “what I really need now is level 4 autonomy” – but it’s said to feature headlights placed on a detachable roof-mounted drone, which can then fly ahead and light the way if required. Oh please.

Another striking statement was this. “For the first time at Audi, we’ve a monobox volume which is something unique. It makes sense to create maximum space“. Remind me again, what was the name of that genuinely intelligent Audi monospace which marks its 20th anniversary this year?

One might naively expect Mr. Lichte to understand (or even respect) his design heritage, but we’re well and truly through the looking glass, it does appear. Because while it isn’t exactly as if any of the three previous AI-themed Audi concepts were any more coherent in theme or execution, it must be said that the AI : TRAIL represents a new stratum of vacuity.

Doing the rounds at Frankfurt, Auto-Didaktic correspondent, Christopher Butt was in an even less charitable frame of mind.  “This AI : Trail thing is an insult to one’s intelligence. It’s not just the design, but the stupidity that grates. The kindest comments [during both press days] referred to its resemblance to a mediocre design student’s thesis. Yet they probably spent a seven figure sum on this – they should have donated it to charity, or bought sex dolls.

Every Dream Home a Heartache. (c) Auto-Didakt

If Audi is to be taken seriously, (you are quite welcome to try), the future of offroading is electric and autonomous. This being so, why not simply stay at home and let the car go exploring – after all, you’ll probably be able to livestream the whole thing via the standard-fit drones to your home entertainment hub – or somesuch.

I don’t know if anyone recalls an old advertising slogan? One from a time when Audi used to be relevant. It went something along the lines of Vorsprung durch something or other…

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

25 thoughts on “Infra Dignitatem”

  1. I don’t think this “”SUV of the future” has enough suspension travel for true go-anywhere capability.

    Also, one would have thought lack of range would be an issue with a true EV offroader, but I believe there is a solution.

  2. In yesterday´s New York Times Markus Schäfer of Daimler is reported as saying that Daimler is not going to develop any more ICEs. I presume this phase of ICEs will have a longer run than the previous one in order to co-ordinate the end of development of ICE-powered vehicles, if that´s needed. I wonder if there is an article from the mid-1970s where a spokesman from Remington declares the end of manual typew-writers.
    The last typewriter factory closed in 2011 and was based in India.

    1. “In yesterday´s New York Times Markus Schäfer of Daimler is reported as saying that Daimler is not going to develop any more ICEs.”

      More corporate stupidity based on the forecasts of credentialed experts.

      Reminds me of GM in the early 1980’s. They made the decision to downsize their large buick, olds and cadillacs because their “experts” assured them that oil prices were going to soar.

      Those unpopular downsized cars were introduced in the mid-1980s when oil prices were under ten dollars a barrel.

  3. As a sculptural object I quite like the AI-Trail. On every other level it fails. The folded windows seem especially dense. But rather than kick Audi, I would prefer to remind them that my services as an expert in design semantics are available at a very modest sum (relative to their other expenditures).

  4. Didn’t we already see this car driving over human skulls in the first Terminator film? It makes sense that the Audi drivers of the future would be psychotic autonomous killing machines.

  5. What a horror! No one will buy such a monstrosity, and were I a shareholder I’d be annoyed to see €1m spaffed away like this.

    ” maximum glazing to create an intense connection to the surroundings”. Hmmm. Out in the snowy uplands on a bitter February dawn, that’s the last thing you want.
    Land-Rover, featured here recently, never make that mistake.

  6. “Monolithic basic vehicle body” Good to see cars being made out of stone again. We haven’t seen that since ‘The Flintstones’.

  7. Imagine how annoying that horizontal kink in the side glass would be, causing inevitable distortions at exactly the level of your eye-line. Ridiculous!

    I saw my first Q8 in the metal yesterday, here in Annapolis, MD. It was strangely underwhelming in a motoring landscape dominated by Chevrolet Suburbans and similar XXL SUVs, somewhat anonymous, yet absurdly shouty and over-detailed at the same time:

    The front end is an absolute shocker, the worst of many bad details being those inexplicable black plastic squarish fillers between the headlamps and grille. The wheelarches comprise four separate concentric circles, as there’s another within the body-coloured plastic wheel arch “extension” that isn’t apparent in photographs. In comparison, the aforementioned Suburban is a model of restraint (size apart, of course):

    Being in the US for a few weeks reminds me how well resolved and nicely detailed many American cars are in comparison with their exalted European “premium” competitors.

    1. You pick a very good example but are there many that are this well done? In fairness to the Europeans, many are neatly finished even if the styling theme is a bit on the busy side. The Chevrolet is very tidy, I have to admit. It is however, rather on the very large side.

    2. Hi Richard, there is a (slightly) shorter version of the Suburban, called the Tahoe, which looks equally good. Ignoring US versions of Ford and GM models currently on sale in Europe, I offer the following for your consideration. First, the Buick Lacrosse:

      Second, the Chevrolet Malibu:

      I’m not saying these represent design high points, but they’re neat and inoffensive, which is more than I can say about most current Audi and BMW models. Incidentally, Chrysler’s current US range consists of the now ancient 300C and a largeish MPV called the Pacifica. Ironically, the marque appears to be going the way of Land is.

    3. Niether of those two GM cars do much to float my boat. I should point out my boat is not too far from the Lusitania. Still, it´s a Buick saloon and that´s a good thing in itself. You should see the interior of the Lacrosse. At least in the tan versions with the polished wood it is very, very attractive.
      What´s wrong with the exteriors? They are rather generic. You could swap the badges without anybody noticing. I don´t know who would love these cars. Some may accept them and be pleased enough. Neither has any chance of setting the pulse racing. Ford´s Mondeo and Opel´s Insignia are much more distinctive. In fact most large saloons are more distinctive than this anodyne pair. I would still find the Buick´s interior a selling point though.

    4. That’s rather my point, Richard: the bar has been dragged so low by the recent design high jinx of the likes of Audi, BMW, Lexus, Toyota, Infiniti and Honda et al that mere inoffensiveness is actually a real positive. Both cars have nicely resolved DLOs, neat A-pillar and sail panel treatment, enough body side sculpting to add interest without going overboard.

      The Insignia over here is a Buick Regal and it also looks fine, but I was ignoring US versions of European models. I afraid I have to disagree about the Mondeo/Fusion, though: there are lots of them about and they’re looking a bit tired, in the way old Fords often do.

      If you want more character, I offer you this, the Dodge Charger:

      Nice sculpting on the body sides, slightly unruly and threatening looking, in a good way. What’s not to like?

      Incidentally, I’m currently pootling around in a Nissan Rogue rental car, a sort of Qashqai clone with a rather embarrassing name. Drives ok though.

    5. Or go the whole hog with this:

      Yes, yes, I know that front wing to bumper shut line is rubbish, but just look at the rest of it!

    6. Hmm, Richard’s now ignoring me, assuming I’m suffering from an automotive version of Stockholm Syndrome, I suppose.

  8. Whoever wrote the article itself gets 5 gold stars from me. Wonderful! Biting sarcasm of the very first order. So was it you, Mr Doyle? It seems more the Butt style, but I want to give the kudos to the real hero!

    Those German designers from BMW, then Mercedes and now Audi seem to have arrived via the Starship Enterprise with the gobbledeegook they utter. Alien nonsense on speed. Why bother designing? They all could get jobs as government PR spokespersons explaining the latest policy in floridly impenetrable terms of complete nonsense to a startled huddled mass. No more cars for you, simple serfs. You must learn to share, including the detritus left by the previous “driver”, organic or otherwise, smelly or not. And you will enjoy it! By EU edict! All the while our latest Level 4 autonomy follows the yellow lines painted through the woods, forests, and thick underbrush while you have an adventure you’ll never forget. Sign me up, oh Batman! Total tommy rot of course. Dystopic in fact.

    And Mr O’Callaghan, now romping through the Disunited States, seems very aware of the cars he’s noticing. Good. The European myopia most often shown here gets me down at times. I know it’s the site’s original remit, but it sure gets ladled on a bit thick at times. Mr Herriotts’s love of Lancias went beyond any reason and I learnt more about some pretty average cars given exalted super status for no solid reasons I could ever ascertain. Particularly after his erudite design articles which were matchless. Perhaps it’s my colonial upbringing, although there’s not much doubt Ireland has gone through the same mangle or worse, but sometimes I wondered if he was having us on with an advanced humour I was unable to appreciate. Perhaps not, judging by his remarks here on US cars. I have avoided favouring either camp by buying decently-made reliable Japanese rides for the last thirty years.

    1. “I have avoided favouring either camp by buying decently-made reliable Japanese rides for the last thirty years.”

      Apparently, just like 98% of NYC taxi drivers, Bill. Although a regular visitor to the US, I hadn’t been to NYC for 17 years and was astonished to see how the yellow taxi fleet had changed. Last time it was all Chevy Caprices and Ford Crown Victorias. This time, Toyota hybrids in many guises rule the roost, with the odd Nissan NV200 people carrier variant. I think I saw one Chevy and one Ford during a week in the city. That speaks volumes about comparative running costs and reliability, I guess.

      Returning to American cars that have caught my attention, I saw a 2019 Lincoln Continental today:

      Ok, it might be a bit of a pound-shop (relatively speaking) Bentley, but the design hangs together rather well and has some nice details, like the way the door handles and mirror brackets are incorporated into a substantial piece of brightwork below the DLO. Lincoln also has some great model names; Corsair, Nautilus, Aviator, Navigator, which appear to be replacing the previous Mk… alphabet soup model designations.

      Off to Washington D.C. tomorrow. Expect to see loads of black Suburbans and unsmiling men in equally black suits.

    2. Sorry Daniel – I was not able to look in. That shutline is brave, shall we say.
      The Continental – the proportions are wrong, exaclty like a Thesis. However, the blue interior that was available more than made up for it.
      Are you on vacation in the US or on the run?

    3. Just teasing, Richard 😉 I wouldn’t blame you if you were ignoring my current obsession with US automobiles. I probably would!

      We’re on vacation, continuing our exploration of the Continental Congress states that took the lead in the War of Independence. Having visited New England a couple of years ago, we’ve been travelling south through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia on this trip. We’re on our last leg now, spending five days in Washington D.C. before flying home.

      On the subject of foreign cars made specifically for the US market, the VW Atlas SUV and Passat sedan are interestingly different to VW’s European models. The Atlas is big and bold looking, with squared-off wheelarches and a large grille, replicating the design tropes of its US competitors. Not a sophisticated look, but it has presence:

      In contrast, the Passat is a rather plain looking thing, especially in non-metallic colours (and most seem to be white). It is larger, but lacks the visual sophistication of its European namesake. It looks like VW set out to build a Chevy, and rather overdid it:

    4. Notice that you can´t get a dish called Chicken Maryland in Maryland. When I was a child this dish was a staple of Irish hotels and grotty cafeterias. It is gone now – replaced by anything-tikka style. If we had a moderator the Passat would be taken down for being offensively bland.

    5. Funny, I saw one of these Atlas monstrosities parking in our street a few times last month or so. It featured US numberplates, so it was either a tourist coming here on their own wheels, or someone who relocated and hadn’t done the Swiss registration yet. Apart from being big, it looked rather nondescript.

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