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Audi fast-forwards to Ro 80

Looking forward: Audi A8's new LED lights are example of the 'lightness' that the German brand is trying in instill in its new models.

Post A8, Audi design boss says the past will help create the look of the future

3 Dec 2009


AUDI design chief Stefan Sielaff has revealed that back catalogue models such as the NSU Ro 80 are providing the styling inspiration as consumers demand cars that look light and efficient.

He also hinted that the next crop of Audis would boast thinner pillars, less bulk and visual tricks to make them look less heavy as well as much more elegant.

Pointing to the latest-generation A8 just unveiled at the Miami art and design fair in the United States as the first real example of Audi’s new design direction, Mr Sielaff said the flagship sedan was setting the scene for a series of longer and leaner cars, just as the current A8 (the D3 from 2003) introduced the more imposing look that influenced the subsequent C6 A6 (2005) and B8 A4 (2007).

The next big Audi sedan due will be the A7 (previewed at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit) as well as the C7-generation A6. Both will be introduced in 2010.

It is rumoured that an A3-based sedan will also follow with the next-generation vehicle in about 2012.

7 center imageLeft: The NSU Ro 80 was introduced at the 1967 Frankfurt motor show. Below: New Audi A8.

Mr Sielaff believes this is just the beginning of a cycle that will see much slimmer and lighter-looking cars in the future.

“We are looking at the NSU Ro 80,” he said. “It is very much a part of our history, and it is still a very modern-looking car.

“It was a very modern statement (in its day) as well as a very slim and light statement.

“When we look at the future, now more than ever the efficiency of the car must be reflected in the design – and especially in the exterior.

“So there is a specific lightness that must be achieved with all (of Audi’s) future designs. And this is the target that Audi has to go for.”

Mr Sielaff suggests that the 2016 A8 will probably need to adopt a revolutionary approach to design for it go to the next level of ‘trim, taut and terrific’.

“So maybe the next A8 might even look not as heavy as this one – we don’t really know yet,” he said.

“But this could also be – in this social climate – the answer to a lot of questions and concerns that the customer has.

“In a way the Ro80 gives us a strong genetic code for us to reintegrate into (future Audis).”

Using the example of the massive take-up of slim-line LCD, LED and Plasma television sets over the past few years, Mr Sielaff said car buyers were sure to follow suit, especially as it was now desirable to be seen as being efficient and progressive.

“We put extremely thin and light TV screens in our living rooms now, so why can’t we do the same with car (design)?” he said.

The NSU (for Neckarsulm – home of the A8) Ro 80 was an ambitious but ill-fated attempt at a sports sedan by German motorcycle manufacturer and post-war baby car-maker NSU.

Launched in 1967, the Ro 80 won widespread acclaim for its futuristic styling by Claus Luthe, which was partly the result of it being the world’s first production sedan to be specifically designed to use the compact Wankel rotary engine.

Tragically, a catastrophic oil seal failure in many early cars forced NSU to honour cripplingly high engine-replacement costs even when vehicles went out of warranty, and ultimately led the cash-strapped company into the arms of rival Volkswagen, which then immediately paired it with the fledgling Audi-Auto Union division.

The Ro 80 faded from view quickly after that (only about 160 were sold in Australia from 1969 to 1972), but Audi-NSU kept the car in production until 1977.

Since then it has acquired a sizeable reputation for being one of the truly inspirational cars of the modern era.

Claus Luthe, by the way, went on to work on a number of Audi and Volkswagen models, as well as a succession of key BMW vehicles such as the 1982 E30 3 Series, 1986 E28 7 Series, 1988 E34 5 Series and the 1991 E36 3 Series.

Rumour has it that the revolutionary ‘aero’ Audi 100 of 1982 (which featured a Claus Luthe-penned interior) was going to also be offered as an NSU ‘Ro 100’ until a nervous Volkswagen pulled the plug on the idea.

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