Like its key luxury rivals, Audi has long put a halo around its full-size A8 sedan, but how to respond to a changing world in which passenger cars are fading fast and even the most affluent buyers are opting for sport and crossover-utility vehicles.
The answer comes in the form of the Q8 Concept, a thinly disguised take on the premium SUV flagship that will soon be taking its place in Audi showrooms around the world. It made its debut Tuesday morning at the North American International Auto Show.
“Even more luxurious than any Audi before,” Dietmar Voggenreiter, the brand’s global sales director, says the Q8 Concept reveals more than just what the new halo model will look like. It also previews Audi’s new design direction, while also introducing an array of new technologies set to appear in the production Q8 and other new models to follow.
The Bombay Blue Q8 Concept also reveals the influence that Marc Lichte is having on the Audi brand since leaving sibling brand VW in 2014. Now 49, Lichte has been shifting Audi away from the simple, almost slab-sided shapes that had become the brand’s trademark over the last couple vehicle generations.
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The public got a first hint of what’s coming with the debut of the striking – and aggressively sculpted – Prologue Concept and other recent show cars. Now Audi is ready to translate his ideas into reality with the upcoming production Q8.
Like other Lichte show cars, the full-size Q8 Concept adopts what Audi describes as an “organically integrated” version of its familiar Singleframe grille. It’s both lower and, Audi points out, “considerably wider” than what’s featured on current models. The grille, meanwhile, is framed by a pair of slit-like LED headlamps.
The overall appearance is lower, wider and more muscular, a look that is expected to carry over to all future Audi models, as well as the production version which, Voggenreiter said, “will be launched next year,” likely as a 2018 model.
Inside, Lichte’s team also tweaked the familiar Audi design language. Like the flagship A8 sedan the new utility vehicle complements, the Q8 gets a rich mix of wood, leather, chrome and other high-line materials. But there’s an emphasis on technologies – both those you can see and those you might only notice while driving in heavy traffic.
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These include a new Head-Up Display, or HUD, a new touch-based infotainment system, Audi moving away from the buttons, dials and other controls that, some complain, clutter its cabin and make it difficult to operate its increasingly high-tech vehicles.
One of the goals of the Q8 concept – and the production model to follow – is to offer owners “the 25th hour,” said Voggenreiter, “time given back to our customers through driver-assistance systems and connected car technologies.”
The Q8 will open up a new segment for Audi, company officials believe. And it could come at a critical time. Sales of the traditional flagship sedan have been waning during the last several years, vehicles like the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS collectively accounting for barely 80,000 vehicles annually, according to industry data.
Since 2013 alone, the Audi of America line-up has grown from eight to 13 models. While that includes some familiar offerings – the A5 and S5 Cabriolet models sharing the North American International Auto Show stage with the Q8 Concept the emphasis at the maker’s stand is clearly shifting to utility vehicles. That includes the next-generation Q5 ute that is becoming one of Audi’s best-sellers, along with the bigger Q7, which last year reached sales of 100,000 worldwide.
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In a luxury market where SUVs rule, the timing of the Q8 is more than fortuitous. It could be one of the keys to the future for the Audi brand.
Tags: Audi NAIAS, Audi Q8 Concept, Audi adapts to utility trend, Audi debuts Q8, Audi utility vehicle concept, TheDetroitBureau.com., audi detroit auto show, audi news, auto news, paul a. eisenstein, thedetroitbureau