Barcelona-born Cesar Muntada joined Audi as a designer in 2007 to work on the marque’s B and C platforms, including the A4, A5, A6, and the first A7. In 2009, he was put in charge of lighting and wheel design for the entire Audi line. At the North American launch of the 2019 Audi A6 and A7 in Napa Valley, California, he presented an A7 in a wine cave to demonstrate the marque’s HD Matrix LED with laser light, which adjusts to oncoming traffic while maintaining optimum high-beam lighting to detect pedestrians, bicyclists, and animals. Audi has petitioned the U.S. government to change its rules to allow the technology’s use here. If successful, all it would take is a software flash to make Matrix lighting work for American-market cars. We spoke with Muntada about the technology and his job as Audi’s lighting and wheel design chief.
Automobile Magazine: How has lighting design evolved at Audi?
Cesar Muntada: Many years ago it was not necessary to have a lighting department. We had a simple technology with a simple module. It used to be a reflector in the times of halogen. There was not so much to be designed, with the glass just covering this object. But when Audi developed its LED technology in the early 2000s, things accelerated. The head engineer was from the lighting department and understood what the [lighting] designer was talking about. This is why it went quickly to a bigger group.
Between designers and computer modelers, about 12 people. Just to do the lights; I’m going to have 20 more people of course working on wheels. And the electronic department is maybe slightly bigger.
What’s it like, professionally, to go from designing an entire car to designing one element?
With lighting and wheels, it was obvious that either you make the car successful, or you could even sink it. During the day you can see the car—the daytime running lights are part of the signature—but when the evening comes, you cannot see it anymore. So what you can see is those lights.
Is it harder to design lighting for cars or for SUVs?
If we do an SUV, it might have more punch because it’s got more presence itself, so in the night you can realize from the light that it’s coming, it’s something a bit bigger. I think much harder because the space that you have is much tighter. You have an extreme low balance, very little space behind the wheel.
Why would it be beneficial for U.S.-market Audis to have the Matrix system enabled?
We are focused on having the best light on the road, so it’s important. The best light is always the high-beam. A good low-beam would combine with the high-beam that gives you the range. It means that at certain speed, you can recognize maybe an animal crossing the road much easier. When you’re driving toward an oncoming car or you are catching another car in front, you would produce some glare. Matrix light masks the oncoming car or the car in front. The other light tells the computer to switch off just this one light and leaves the rest of the LEDs on. The oncoming car thinks that you are driving with low-beams, but actually you are driving with high-beams toward him.
What are the trends in interior lighting?
The same philosophy like the exterior lights. It’s important in cars like the A7, for example, to split the area in two. So it emphasizes with one type of light. The ambient light, on the bottom part, gives some light to the object because it’s from underneath. It becomes a more spacious feel. And I’m thinking that our cars are going to be one day maybe completely autonomous. The car will be more like a living room, like a living space. In the future maybe when the time is right you can drive with exactly the light you want, because you are not driving.
How do you envision lighting systems working in the future?
If a pedestrian wants to cross, we can sense it with cameras and radars. We can highlight him three times. Very quickly, tick, tick, tick, with three flashes of light. Whether it’s making some flashing or marking the pedestrian or maybe projecting something on the ground or maybe with the light around the surfaces in the car, explaining that it’s going to stop, it’s going to reduce speed, or there’s a danger coming. In the future, you will need the system that works in every single condition and will not just be one solution with the light. Today we do it with eye contact. Tomorrow the light will do these things. The thing that interests me the most is to generate this language for the future. How can we create with light a universal language?
Wouldn’t you have to share such a universal language with your competitors?
It’s important that the people understand that we all profit and we all have a benefit from it. It is a challenge, but we all want a better world.