Audi Grand Sphere Prototype Will Serve As A Preview Of The Upmarket A8 Successor

by AutoExpert   |  12 July, 2021

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Audi has approved the design of the high-tech Project Artemis electric car, which will emerge in 2024 as the company's new flagship, and will present a concept version at the Munich auto show in September.

The Grand Sphere will be one of three concept cars produced by the German automaker in the coming year to demonstrate its approach to vehicles with level-four autonomous driving technologies. The A8 saloon will be replaced as Audi's luxury flagship by the production version. It will be unveiled in 2024 before coming on sale in the first half of the following year.

The Grand Sphere, according to Audi design chief Marc Lichte, will be a very concrete teaser of the Artemis initiative, showcasing a new revolution in design with a focus on internal space. He urged their design teams for something wholly new, not their notion of an A8 successor,” he stated. Sales volumes for three-box saloons like the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class are declining, and new, more appealing body styles are available.

He believes the S-Class has fared far better than A8, so they'll have to come up with something altogether new to compete with the S-Class. This is the outcome.

Artemis EV design is nearly complete

Project Artemis is tasked with building new platforms and software to power a new generation of completely electric, autonomous-ready Audi cars. It was previously managed as a stand-alone firm but was recently brought entirely in-house. Following the latest Audi EVs, such as the E-tron GT and Q4 E-tron, these will introduce the next important technological step.

Project Artemis was tasked with designing a long-range grand tourer that could take advantage of those autonomous technologies, which will be available on a small selection of highways with the necessary infrastructure at first.

The Landjet-based Project Artemis production automobile was designed as a successor to the A8 and will compete with Mercedes-new Benz's EQS electric luxury limousine. The Landjet title is designed to indicate the attention on the interior, which is similar to that of a private jet and offers “first-class” comfort. Due to the new car's substantial deviations from standard saloons and SUVs, Audi discussed using the A9 designation but has now opted to create a new naming scheme.

The Landjet will be the first Volkswagen Group product to feature the innovative new SSP architecture, which incorporates parts from both the mainstream MEB and performance-oriented PPE EV platforms. It will also leverage Cariad, the Volkswagen Group's in-house software department, to develop an innovative new VW.OS software tool.

It will become one of the first cars to use the Volkswagen Group's unified-cell battery tech, giving it a WLTP test cycle range of roughly 600km (373 miles). The Landjet's electrical architecture is believed to be 800V, allowing it to handle charging rates of up to 350kW from ultra-quick sources.

Audi has not revealed any other information about the vehicle's performance or power output. Its complex software will be paired with a multitude of sensors and connection technologies, just like the related Volkswagen Trinity concept, to enable enhanced autonomous driving.

Alex Hitzinger, a former head of Porsche's motorsport program, led Project Artemis from the start last year, but when it was moved in-house, Audi technology chief Oliver Hoffmann took over.

Following rumors that Volkswagen Group executives were concerned about the project's progress, especially that the team was exploring too many ideas that were unsuitable for mass production, the atmosphere became tense.

Grand Sphere Is A First Peek At Audi's Stunning New Design

According to Lichte, Project Artemis' concentration on autonomy necessitated a dramatic shift in the design process, with the interior design having authority and the exterior molded to fit.

The outcome of this strategy will be visible on the Grand Sphere. Audi has released some spy shots of a car with a sleek, grand tourer-style design but a huge, SUV-like body section.

The concept's design development began three years ago, according to Lichte. They started with a long-distance use case and then designed a layout that is revolutionary for a D-segment car. They created a large interior space, designed from the inside out. The Grand Sphere appears to be a mono-box volume from the outside, however, it is not visible. A mono-box volume is unattractive, like a van. As a result, Lichte came up with some brilliant ideas that he's very pleased with.

“From certain angles, the Grand Sphere appears to be a typical grand tourer, but closer inspection reveals a wide, low windscreen designed to maximize inside space. When you open the door, it feels like you've gone from a 30-square-meter apartment to a loft.”

The Grand Sphere will also display the next generation of Audi design language, which will include a significantly reduced usage of lines, owing to the automobiles' streamlined shapes.

The concept will emphasize the final car's breathtaking proportions while retaining several recognizable design features. These include muscle lines and Audi's characteristic single-frame grille. However, instead of a standard engine-cooling grille, the latter will enclose a glass housing for ADAS sensors.

Interior With A Radical ‘First-Class' Feel

The interior was designed to provide a "new living space," according to Lichte, with a focus on allowing people to rest while the car is in autonomous mode. The design features comfortable seats that can recline to 60 degrees, which Lichte claims is more than any seat in a prior production car, and a wide center console with a built-in beverages bar for the front passengers.

“In the A8 and S-Class, business-class seats are in the second row, while the driver sits in the first row,” Lichte explained. “However, in this car, the opposite occurs, because the car is the driver. So there's a lounge at the back, and business class is in the front row. We're no longer offering business class; instead, we're now offering first-class.”

While the Grand Sphere has been built to be self-driving, Lichte insists that it will still have a driver emphasis. He said, "It's an Audi, and an Audi must be a pleasure to drive." The steering wheel is retained in the concept, but it will retract into the dashboard while the auto is in autonomous mode. That dashboard will also include a completely new design, with no physical buttons or screens.

“We have some innovative ideas for integrating the displays in the driving position. There's a pretty attractive app, and if you require a screen for sat-nav or viewing a movie when the car is in autonomous mode, we'll project everything onto this app.”

While some of the Grand Sphere's interior attributes, such as its retractable wheel and radical interface, are similar to those seen in more conceptual autonomous design proposals, Lichte insisted that there is "no big gap" between it and the Landjet production car, which will debut in 2024 and go on sale the following year.

Norbert Weber, the head of Audi's interior design department, added: "We want to use the new leeway offered to us by EV design in the cabin to emphasize what the outside design shows. We wish to keep developing the interior with a new sense of expression. We've always had powerful interior cabins, and this one-of-a-kind personality demonstrates a new emphasis shifting from the outside to the inside."

To Investigate Autonomy, A Sphere Idea Trio Has Been Formed

More Sphere concepts are on the way. Within the next year, the Grand Sphere will be accompanied by two more concepts, both of which have been presented in a short movie, that will study the future design of autonomous-enabled Audi cars.

The trio will all explore ideas centered on the inside of the car as a living area, according to Audi exterior design chief Philipp Römers. He stated: "Inside bold, outside magic' is a claim we make. This is the paradigm change that pervades all of the classes. These notions don't just apply to the D-segment; we can see them in other segments as well." 

The Sky Sphere will be the first of the three to break cover, debuting in August at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. The preview picture suggests it will be a long, two-door coupé with an unusually tall hood for an electric vehicle. It's "a driver's car and an autonomous automobile at the same time," according to Audi sales manager Henrik Wenders.

The Urban Sphere is a smaller, boxier SUV that resembles both autonomous shuttles and Audi's current AI:ME electrified small SUV design. It was named "a private space in urban environments" by Wenders.


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