Leading by example
The A8 reset the luxury bar when it was released 27 years ago and continues to lead from the front.
Consistently introducing ‘firsts’ to the luxury segment and beyond, the A8 continues to lead the way for the Audi brand, showcasing new technologies and cementing the brand’s reputation as an innovator.
30 November, 2021
They use the interior as an office where they can make phone calls, work or just relax. But, on the weekends, they want to take the wheel and enjoy driving
With its all-wheel drive quattro and light construction, the Audi A8 sent a clear message to the competition when it was introduced at the 1994 Geneva International Motor Show. Now 27 years later, Oliver Hoffmann, Member of the Board for Technical Development, sheds light on the importance the A8 has acquired at Audi since then and how it continues to lead the way forward in an increasingly digitised world .
You’ve said before that the A8 represents the brand’s premium standards more than any other car. How did Audi define premium in 1994 and what does premium mean today?
In 1994, the focus was on technologies like the Audi Space Frame and quattro all-wheel drive, dynamic handling and driving comfort, and also on a high-quality interior experience. Since then, exquisite materials, the best workmanship, and outstanding seat comfort have become standard. Today, premium is defined by the total experience – convenience equipment like the relaxation seat in the longer A8 L with an optional massage function and heated footrest. Additional technical features like OLED technology or active suspension, and high-performance electronic systems like the central driver assistance controller, known as zFAS all contribute. Above all, it's about recognising and fulfilling customers’ needs.
The A8 speaks to premium customers around the world. How is Audi able to continuously anticipate their increasingly heterogeneous demands?
Our customers in this model sector tend to be younger than the competition’s. They are increasingly focused on non-material things – things like time, space, or autonomy. In China, for example, we’re seeing that our A8 customers like to be driven. They use the interior as an office where they can make phone calls, work or just relax. But, on the weekends, they want to take the wheel and enjoy driving. So the car has to be as much fun in the front left seat as in the back. For that reason, driving characteristics are just as much a part of the overall experience. The predictive active suspension, for example, makes a very wide range possible – from dynamically taut handling to velvety rolling.
The A8 has set a wealth of new technical standards. For you, what are the most important developments that the A8 has produced?
Let's go back to 1994 – in order to substantiate our aspirations amid world-class competition, the A8 needed characteristics that weren’t just convincing, but impressive. This came in the form of the aluminium construction and the quattro all-wheel drive. The Audi Space Frame gave delivered a major weight advantage and its agility and efficiency were correspondingly high. The quattro all-wheel drive also improved the A8’s handling and the S8 that went on the market in 1996 took that ever further. Personally, I find the 6.0-litre W12 engine that we’ve been using in the A8 since 2001 and the 5.0-litre V10 FSI particularly impressive. The armoured A8 L Security, which Audi first presented in 2005 and is popular among well known political, economic, and social figures, also makes a statement. The next big step forward is LED light technology. The A8 is the first Audi to use LED daytime running lights. We were the first to put rear LED lights into series production. Then in 2009, we decided to stop pursuing a dual strategy and to equip the A8 with air suspension and that same model was the first A8 with a hybrid drive system. It blazed the trail for today’s plug-in hybrids. Incidentally, the current A8 was also the first Audi with a touch operating system with haptic feedback.
The A8 represents Audi’s approach to challenging the limits of what is technically possible. To what extent is that way of thinking reflected in other series?
To be absolutely clear – the Audi A8 is our innovation leader. We do everything we can to always introduce the newest technology in the A8 first and then in other series and segments. The approach that we bring to producing that car radiates into the rest of our portfolio. That's because customers’ needs aren’t only diverse and demanding in the luxury class. We have to set ourselves apart from the competition with quality and comfort in the compact class as well. That's true regardless of whether we are talking about light technology, driver assistance systems, or infotainment.
We do everything we can to always introduce the newest technology in the A8 first and then in other series and segments
The interior of the A8 was always a feel-good place – now the car is increasingly important as a ‘third place’ next to home and work
The interior experience in the A8 has always played an important role. What does that mean for the development and design process in future vehicles beyond the premium segment?
The interior of the A8 was always a feel-good place. Now the car is increasingly important as a ‘third place’ next to home and work. That’s why, in the future, the feel-good environment will also be a central focal point – with variable seating positions, comprehensive entertainment, and lighting effects that we at Audi play with at great expense and a high degree of technical refinement. As a result we are now developing cars from the inside out, so quite deliberately around the passengers.
Audi wants to position itself as completely electric. How are the A8’s success parameters contributing to the brand’s future electric premium models?
The A8 has made a major contribution to paving the way for future electric models. I’ll give you three examples. The light, composite design of the luxury sedan is a critical factor in electromobility. The standard 48 volt mild-hybrid system and the plug-in hybrid drive in the A8 TFSI e likewise mark an important step on the way toward completely electrifying the brand. On the other hand, wind and other noises are particularly conspicuous in purely electric cars. Targeted and effective insulation therefore plays a bigger role than ever. But for me, it is very important for us not to define e-mobility solely in terms of technology. The mobility of tomorrow has to offer individual and emotional experiences, meet customers’ needs, and quite simply be fun.
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