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Inside the Malibu Studio Where Audi Is Using Virtual Reality to Design the Future of Cars

The PB18 e-tron's interior was done exclusively using Virtual Reality.

Audi's computer-driven studio is churning out new designs, like the PB18 e-tron. Photo: Courtesy Audi AG.

From sports-car culture to cutting-edge technology, California’s influence on automotive development is undeniable. For Audi, the longtime love affair with the state is embodied by the PB18 e-tron concept, an all-electric, race-inspired prototype. The approximately 670 hp coupe, described by Audi executives as “a cross between a supercar and a sportback,” is said to cover zero to 60 mph in about two seconds, ranking it among the world’s fastest four-wheelers.

The PB18 is the first vehicle to come out of Audi’s new Malibu design studio, headed by Gael Buzyn. Unlike traditional creative hubs, the Malibu space is entirely computer driven. This concept car’s interior, for example, was done exclusively using virtual reality. “We created the PB18 without any clay; we just sent the data and had it milled in Germany,” says Buzyn. “I’m confident we can now achieve the development of a car almost all digitally.”

The Audi PB18 E-Tron.

Inspiration for the PB18 E-Tron came from Audi’s R18 LMP1 Le Mans prototype racers and the all-electric Aicon concept.  Photo: Courtesy Audi AG.

Currently in temporary digs, the studio will eventually move to a permanent location in the heart of the beach community, with breaking ground expected later this year. “It had to be Malibu,” Buzyn underscores. “It’s the only place that has all the right aspects of the brand; it’s the perfect embodiment of California lifestyle. Every weekend is like a mix of the Nürburgring and a mini Monterey Car Week.”

Soon, Audi’s coastal enclave will not only house a handful of designers, it will also be a place where potential buyers and other VIPs can connect more intimately with the brand. “We want to create bonds with exclusive customers and understand what kind of products would resonate well in this market,” Buzyn explains. “We really want to understand what they expect and how to go beyond those expectations.”

Meanwhile, the German marque continues its push into electrification with the new e-tron SUV (available now) and the forthcoming e-tron GT, expected to go on sale next year. As for a production version of the PB18, Buzyn won’t talk, but he is confident that performance cars won’t go away, especially in Southern California. “There’s a rebirth here of a passion for cars. People aren’t ready to give up driving.”

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