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