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Aesthetics x Performance = Perfection

Aesthetics x Performance = Perfection

Marc Lichte, Head of Design at AUDI AG, is every bit the sailor and has notched up three wins in his class at Kiel Week. Where does he draw similarities between boats and vehicles?

Copy: Bernd Zerelles - Photo: Piotr Kożuch, Christian Künstler, Rouven Steinke - Video: Arnd Buss von Kuk Lesezeit: 4 min

Marc Lichte in an Audi Design Studio.Marc Lichte in an Audi Design Studio.

A passionate yachtsman since childhood – and a passionate vehicle designer who has been defining Audi’s design language for almost a decade. This man’s world revolves around shapes. Shapes he moves on and shapes he creates. Boat shapes that flow elegantly through the water, and vehicle shapes that efficiently cut through the wind. So, the question is: Does Marc Lichte dedicate his life to aesthetics or to flow? “It’s not a question of either/or. I shall be happy when both come together in perfection. For me, sailing is always performance. I only sail fast boats, very fast boats. But my boats must always be extremely aesthetic, every single one of them. And this is also true for Audi: One of Audi’s core values is performance. And maximum aesthetics, of course.”

A brief meeting with Marc Lichte in an Audi Design Studio in Ingolstadt right before Kiel Week, one of the world's largest sailing events. Marc Lichte’s home port had been the Kiel Fjord for many years. This year, he will sail his new yacht, a ten-meter ocean racer, at Kiel Week. Later, Marc Lichte has an appointment with Dr Moni Islam, Head of Development Aerodynamics/Aeroacoustics at Audi (see video). But there is still time to talk about boat design and vehicle design, about efficiency, flow, aerodynamics – and also about perfection. Because that’s what inspires Marc Lichte: getting as close to perfection as possible. “Performance paired with maximum aesthetics,” Lichte continues. “And performance also means: optimisation down to the last detail,” he emphasises to make it very clear that there is no room for compromise, none whatsoever. Maximum expectations. Of himself. Of aesthetics. Of performance. Of everything he creates, everything that surrounds him.

Marc Lichte navigating a yacht.Marc Lichte navigating a yacht.
The hull of a boat on a digital wall.The hull of a boat on a digital wall.

Top aerodynamics is a core component of Audi’s DNA and therefore its design language.

Marc Lichte

Aesthetic performance of a boat: Even at the age of eight, Marc Lichte optimised the one-design racing boat that he had been assigned by his club, used putty to correct the edges at the stern, and painted it according to his ideas. He did the same with every boat he sailed after that: “I optimise every boat down to the last detail. Always.” There’s no room for compromise, none whatsoever: Lichte even customised the flagstaff at the stern of his new yacht: usually made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic, aluminium or stainless steel and technically rather unimportant, the flagstaff is now made of carbon in an aerodynamically optimised way. For performance reasons: “I’m all for a lightweight design of my yacht.” And for aesthetic reasons: “The yacht itself is white, but I keep all the superstructures black. Really all of them!” Marc Lichte pays attention to every single detail and devotes himself to it with complete dedication.

Marc Lichte sketching.Marc Lichte sketching.
Stall at the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron.Stall at the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron.

Aesthetic performance of a car: Audi’s aerodynamicists came up with the idea of so-called “air curtains” at the sides of the car’s nose; these are air intakes that direct the air from the front into the wheel arches to optimise the flow. Marc Lichte comments: “This input from the wind tunnel is an ingenious aerodynamic detail. We apply this to the formal design of all our electric vehicles. It’s a key feature that signals: This car is efficient.”
At a very early stage in the development of a new vehicle, Audi designers will place different proportional models into the wind tunnel; the design with the best drag coefficient will go into series production. “Aerostaetics” is what they call it amongst themselves – aesthetics that evolve from the wind tunnel.

Marc Lichte on his yacht.Marc Lichte on his yacht.

Lichte, every bit the sailor, points out that the shape of a boat can, of course, also be optimised to enable the best possible flow: “We may use wind tunnels in vehicle development, but be use towing tanks in the development of performance boats.” The designer knows the ropes when it comes to the similarities between good boat design and good vehicle design: “The basis of good design is proportion. This is true both for a boat and for a car.”
The ideal boat design according to Lichte: the flatter the hull, the more aesthetically pleasing, it should be extremely slim, with little volume in the forecastle, and the focus should be placed on the widest point, with a defined, trailing edge at the stern of the boat. “It should create a harmonious look.” And he adds: “It’s not much different when we are looking at cars: a flat car is more efficient, more aerodynamic. Prominent lines create a beautiful shape. And the aerodynamic flow should remain on the sides and the roof for as long as possible – and finally break off in a maximally defined way.” Length determines speed – this is true both for the design of a boat and of a vehicle.
And before Marc Lichte has to leave for his appointment with the aerodynamics specialist, we have to ask one last question: How do you make efficiency more aesthetic? “My philosophy is: If form and function – and function includes good aerodynamics – are in perfect harmony, it’s a good design. Form follows function. It’s what drives us all here at Audi.”

Marc Lichte, Head of Design at AUDI AG, is meeting with Dr Moni Islam, Head of Development Aerodynamics/Aeroacoustics at Audi.

Side view of the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron.

Electrified coupe.

The Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron* combines all-electric quattro performance and the power of a spacious SUV with the elegance of a four-door coupe as well as an interior with select materials and fine fabrics.

Only consumption and emission values according to WLTP and not according to NEDC are available for the vehicle.