Audi at Design Shanghai: Car design from both worlds
“Window into the future” − this was the slogan Audi used at Design Shanghai 2020, a window that allowed visitors to take an exclusive look into the future. “Imagine it like this: I enter an oversized cube and am captivated by a huge video installation on our
new design philosophy,” explains Stephan Fahr-Becker, Head of Design at
The “look into the future” is accompanied by a “look at the smartphone”: a specially developed WeChat mini-program for visitors. “Forward-looking − like Audi’s new brand message, which is reflected in the new design philosophy,” adds Christian Balzer, Brand Manager at Audi China. Both Audi employees are experienced China experts and in an interview talk about the opportunities the Asian market offers Europe.
Car design in Asia: the interview
How important is Design Shanghai for Audi and the Asian market?
Christian Balzer: Design Shanghai is very important for us. On the one hand, it is one of the largest design fairs in Asia. About 50,000 visitors attended it this year. We learned a lot from them regarding our car design: for instance, what interests our customers today and tomorrow. This is where we get direct feedback on our products and designs.
On the other hand, there was a large portfolio of different exhibitors and designers at this design fair. We exchange ideas with them and get inspiration beyond the automotive industry, for example, how we could design a car in the future.
Stephan Fahr-Becker: Our aim is for the customer to clearly experience our message of a modern luxury brand. With the Audi Q4 e-tron concept on display, we will show our visitors what Audi understands by forward-looking premium mobility. At the same time we want to capture moods and trends. This will most certainly enrich our daily work in the design studio.
What do you think makes Audi‘s design philosophy so special?
Stephan: What I find fascinating about Audi and my job is when sophisticated technology and progressive design form a perfect symbiosis. Audi stands for well thought-out car designs which follow a clear logic. You can clearly see this in the Audi Q4 e-tron concept. In this SUV the aerodynamic features, which also improve the range of an electric car, have become part of its style.
“We Europeans can learn from the boldness and speed of the Asians.”
To what extent do the design ideas of the western and eastern markets differ?
Stephan: Many people think that Asian and European tastes are very different. This is not completely wrong. But especially in the premium segment, the Audi Innovation Research (AIR) Office in Beijing has found that customers around the world are developing similar tastes in design. It is all about a car having presence on the road and a less-is-more design. Of course, the designs in China are a little more expressive and colourful. Our challenge is to make our cars stand out from this flood of flashing lights and features.
What can Europe learn from the Chinese market in terms of car design?
Stephan: The Chinese market is one of the most important markets for Audi. We sell a large percentage of our cars here. The trends we are identifying in China today are therefore becoming increasingly important for our Audi products as well. Until now, we have usually adapted the design of existing models to meet market requirements. For example, our own interior options or special radiator grilles.
Christian: In the future we will go even further. We listen to our customers and focus on their needs without losing sight of our Audi philosophy. Trends come and go – particularly quickly in Asia. We want to set our own trends and be bold. I have felt this healthy pragmatism, openness and boldness here ever since I came to China four years ago. I think that we Europeans should open up to this market and try out new approaches. After all, the needs are similar on both continents. I am often taken by surprise as to how much we can learn from the market here.