Update: ‘Audi urbansphere specifications’ section updated.
Audi designers based out of Ingolstadt and Beijing have a treat for customers in China—the Audi urbansphere concept. The luxurious Audi van concept was developed keeping Chinese customers’ needs in mind—space, comfort, and digitization. The electric minivan is the third concept in the sphere trifecta after the Audi skysphere (unveiled at the Monterey Car Week 2021) and Audi grandsphere (premiered at the IAA 2021).
Here’s everything we know about the urbansphere concept, and our expectations from the production electric Audi minivan:
Audi van concept Design
The Audi urbansphere design was born in Audi’s design studios in Beijing and Ingolstadt. Its proportions are deceptive, and it appears regular van-sized in the press images. But the urbansphere concept is longer than the Audi A8 L. The luxury electric minivan concept measures 217.9 inches long (5.51 meters), nearly 10 inches longer than the A8 L. With a generous surface area to play with, Audi designers have taken many liberties.
Upfront, there’s a fresh interpretation of Audi’s signature singleframe grille, which now gets an octagonal shape. There’s a barrage of LEDs integrated within the grille. A 3D digital light structure is arranged in ‘dynamically condensed pixel areas.’ The matrix LED headlamps are positioned above the grille and appear incredibly sleek. The glass area is impressive; the windshield seamlessly flows into the rear, reminiscent of fighter jets.
Side & Rear
The zero-emissions Audi van concept runs on massive 24-inch aero-optimized wheels and doesn’t get conventional mirrors. Instead, it has slender panels protruding from the A-pillar with cameras. The doors are counter-hinged (front and rear), and there’s no B-pillar. There’s excellent harmony between the front and back as the rear also gets digital surfaces with 3D pixel lights. The roofline gently drops into the highly raked rear windscreen while the massive 4-part diffuser makes the Audi van appear sporty—not a word associated with vans, but Audi has done the trick.
Production design imagined
Marc Lichte, Head of Design, Audi, has said the Sphere concepts hide secrets that we will see in future production models, Auto&Design reported on August 18, 2022. They signal the start of the company’s “new stylistic course.” The urbansphere could be the design basis for a futuristic executive van that could put the Lexus LM to shame.
Our rendering, shown above, predicts the production-spec look of the Audi urbansphere. While the overall shape and size are nearly identical, the road-ready electric Audi van is conceived with a simplified exterior. The octagonal Singleframe is a comparatively normal mask similar to the Audi Q4 e-tron. The side extensions are not present either, and we’ve used vertical headlamps and air inlets instead. The rendered model features changes like production ORVMs, doors, roof, roof rails, and flush door handles.
Interior & Features
The interior appears to have acres of room with a wheelbase of 133.8 inches (3.4 meters). The swiveling rear seats can be tilted up to 60 degrees to a point where rear passengers can face each other. They also get leg rests. There’s a massive vertically-pivoting roof-mounted transparent movie screen for the rear passengers—similar to what we saw on the new 7th generation BMW 7 Series and i7 recently, but unique in form factor.
Displays & Materials
That’s not the only screen in the cabin. The front seat backrests get ‘privacy screens,’ similar to what we see on passenger airlines. Another party trick of the Audi urbansphere concept is the retractable steering and pedals. The concept is capable of Level 4 autonomous driving, so the steering can be tucked away behind the dashboard while the pedals hide behind the footwell. What’s more, Audi has included VR glasses in the armrests.
Instead of an infotainment screen and digital cluster, there are visual projections on the wooden surfaces under the windshield. Users can control menus with a rotating ring on the door trims (MMI touchless response). What’s more, there’s generous use of sustainable materials in the cabin. No chemicals were used for the interiors, the seats are made from Econyl (recycled polyamide), and the armrests of the Audi van are made using bamboo viscose fabric.
Audi urbansphere specifications
The Audi urbansphere concept measures 217.9 inches long (5.51 meters), 79.1 inches wide (2.01 meters), and 70 inches (1.78 meters) tall. It has a 133.9-inch (3.40-meter) wheelbase. The concept is built on Audi’s Premium Platform Electric, co-developed with Porsche and the VW Group. The platform will also be used by the upcoming Electric Porsche Macan and the Audi Q6 e-tron.
Audi has signed an MoU to expand its collaboration with SAIC, in a bid to strengthen its competitiveness in China. The company plans to jointly develop EVs with SAIC, starting with models in a segment in which it does not currently offer any products in China.
According to a report Autocar published on July 20, 2023, Audi may borrow the EV platform that underpins IM Motors’ IM L7 sedan and IM LS7 SUV. IM Motors, called ‘智己汽车’ or ‘Zhiji Automobile’ in Chinese, is one of the many auto companies owned by SAIC.
The Chinese platform in question enables an 800-volt battery architecture, which means EVs based on it may leverage 350 kW charging. However, it can only be used to develop vehicles with a 2,800-3,200 mm (110.2-126.0 in.) wheelbase. Perhaps, Audi will borrow another EV platform from SAIC for the production Urbansphere, if it finds the PPE noncompetitive in specifications.
Electric Audi Van release date
Audi has not mentioned official production plans for the electric van, and the Urbansphere is purely a design study at this stage. Suppose Audi’s product planners come back with a positive business case, and it gets the backing of the top bosses at Ingolstadt, it may arrive in China mid-decade. Rivals would include the Zeekr 009, the Volvo Electric Minivan, the Voyah Dreamer, and gas-powered minivans like the Lexus LM. Not all the gizmos mentioned in the story would make it to production. However, Audi will try to flex its muscles with high-tech features to maintain its brand image.
Should Audi launch an electric van inspired by the Urbansphere concept, the Audi-FAW NEV Company, a joint venture between the German automaker and China’s FAW (First Automobile Works), could manufacture the vehicle. The joint venture company will open a new factory dedicated to electric vehicles with an annual production capacity of more than 150,000 units in China. Construction is to be completed by the end of 2024.
Audi has confirmed that three models from the Audi A6 e-tron and Audi Q6 e-tron series have received the green signal for manufacturing in Changchun. The Audi electric van could join them as early as 2026, the year starting from which the company plans to release only electric vehicles globally.
The electric Audi van can be a swanky people mover for executives and VIPs, offering corporate board members an upscale alternative to the Lexus LM hybrid van and the Zeekr 009 EV. Due to its shape, platform, and quietness, it may be the most comfortable and practical Audi ever introduced.
Audi electric van FAQs
When will the Audi electric van be launched?
The Audi electric van inspired by the Audi urbansphere could be launched in 2026.
Which models will be the Audi electric van rivals?
The Audi electric van could compete with the Lexus LM 300h hybrid van and the Zeekr 009 electric van.
Featured image: TopElectricSUV’s rendition of the Audi electric van.