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“The electric car allows us to think more freely than ever before”

Interview with Klaus Zyciora, Head of Volkswagen Group Design

Standing still is an alien concept for car designers at any rate. But what can be done when not just a model change but also an entire paradigm shift is taking place? In the first part of our interview with Klaus Zyciora, who has been responsible for the worldwide design of all ten brands of the Volkswagen Group since April 2020, we talk about the effects of electric mobility on the vehicle design.

Mr Zyciora, not only are some things changing in the world of mobility right now, but basically everything – this was echoed impressively at IAA MOBILITY 2021. The full diversity of modern mobility was on show in Munich. How comfortable do you feel as a car designer in such a scenario?

Very much at home to be honest. I found the new format with the different modes of transport and the open space concept extremely exciting. On the one hand, it made the topic of mobility more accessible, while on the other hand this colourful juxtaposition of mobility solutions – from the car though to urban air mobility – encourages free and impartial thinking. It is precisely this thinking that we as car designers need more than ever today. And the good thing is: we can also apply it on a broad basis, for example, thanks to electric mobility.

“The ID.Buzz is a strong and emotional ambassador for electric mobility. You could not fail to love the car.”

Klaus Zyciora Head of Volkswagen Group Design

To what extent is the switch from combustion engine cars to electric mobility impacting your work as a designer?

The switch to electric mobility is without doubt one of the most significant paradigm shifts that I have experienced thus far in my work as a designer. Just think about it: car shapes have been dictated by the combustion engine in some ways for more than one and a half centuries. After all, it was considered to be the “heart” of the vehicle, occupying up to one third of the entire car and determining various other design elements such as radiator openings, outlets etc. It was the focal point for the different brand looks that evolved and that each of us has essentially internalised. The design-defining role of the combustion engine has now been removed completely from the equation with the dawn of electric mobility. As a result, there are completely new variables that we as designers are now free to fill with new content.

To get a clearer picture, let's just imagine a Golf 8 next to an ID.3 ...

… and admittedly look to see where the revolution is (laughs). On the surface, we have two cars each with four wheels, four doors, a boot lid, a steering wheel, a similar seat configuration and so on. If you look a little more closely, however, you will soon notice: the ID.3 has a much smaller bonnet, significantly shorter overhangs and is a good ten centimetres taller. The proportions have therefore shifted to a decent extent – which customers primarily notice in the vehicle interior: We were able to create lots more space here thanks to the longer wheelbase. The seats have been moved further apart, there is no longer a centre tunnel, the dash panel is a little further away from the occupants – there is simply a greater sense of freedom overall in the car. As a consequence, the vehicle interior of the ID.3 is as large as that of a Passat.

Illustration shows near-series concept car.
Vehicle image shows special equipment.

So a jump in class then as it were ...?

Absolutely! And not just in terms of space, but also as regards driving experience. An incredible amount of time and resources were previously invested to design optimally quiet-running engines and ensure optimum insulation. All of that virtually comes for free with electric vehicles thanks to the technology. Driving per se is much quieter and more relaxed, you can make work phone calls, converse effortlessly – and generally feel less stressed on the road. These are all benefits that are finding their way into the field of mobility with the new powertrain technology. Our job is to bring these to fruition for our brands in the interest of our customers – and this gives me so much enjoyment.

Illustration shows near-series concept car.
Vehicle image shows special equipment.

Speaking of job satisfaction: over your long career with the Volkswagen Group, you have put your designer signature on numerous models. Has there been a personal highlight for you?

That is difficult to say naturally, because I was involved with rather a large number of vehicles; starting with the interior of the Golf IV to the other members of the Golf family through to the current ID. models. But if I have to pick a project right now, I would actually single out the members of the ID. family: so the ID.3, ID.4 – and above all the ID.Buzz, which is set to launch in 2022. At the very least, this will allow us to revive a real car icon. I think you could say with a fair amount of confidence that there is no toy store in the world where you could not get the T1 as a model, construction kit or such like. Creatively, the vehicle acknowledges the roots of the Volkswagen design identity – incidentally like all ID. offshoots – which was once also established with the T1. At the same time, the ID.Buzz is a strong and emotional ambassador for electric mobility. You could not fail to love the car and – as with its ancestor – ideally develop an emotional connection.

Illustration shows near-series concept car.
Vehicle image shows special equipment.

The T1/ID.Buzz topic is now a prime example of actively lived brand identity. From your perspective as a designer – and not least as head of the global design of all twelve Volkswagen Group brands: Will car brands retain their current high place value in the future also?

I am firmly convinced of this. Brands were and are important anchors in the world in which we live; there is lots of research to prove this. Our needs are naturally changing significantly – whether as private individuals or commercial customers – especially in the area of mobility; at the same time, however, the desire to have these needs fulfilled by certain brands is not fading. The brands have to embrace freedom of thought in this respect but possibly consider other options. As far as the Group is concerned, I think we are quite well positioned in this regard. Take a look at the Audi brand, for example, and specifically the Audi grandsphere concept study. You can clearly see the transformation here. Outwardly: new look, new physiognomy, new proportions, extremely aerodynamic lines. The actual revolution is inside however. The life sphere and spheres of experience of the occupant take centre stage here. And the car has also been crafted around this – and not the other way around. Despite this, the Audi brand essence “Vorsprung durch Technik” remains clearly discernible and tangible; for example, in the automated driving functions.

In the second part of our interview with Klaus Zyciora, read how the gradual establishment of automated driving is impacting the design of cars.

Read on here

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Status: 30. November 2021

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