Audi hopes TT gets by on its looks
Execs cling to car whose design made 'brand statement'
The Audi TT, like other sporty coupes, started off strong but tailed off, even after the April 2007 redesign. Audi hopes the third-generation TT's styling changes inside and out will help revive the nameplate.
It's always hard to give up on a classic. And that explains why Audi of America is bringing back the TT rather than pulling the plug on it.
The sporty coupe will arrive in the United States in 2015, Audi of America President Scott Keogh said. His executives hope to rekindle America's love affair with the original TT, which went on sale in 1999, and to defy market forces that hammered the sporty coupe category and caused sales of the TT to fall by two-thirds from the car's first generation to its second.
The reworked TT, unveiled this month at the Geneva auto show, is a fresh styling statement for the brand, with new, more angular versions of Audi's Singleframe grille and LED headlights. Its interior is a departure, too -- most notably the decision to replace the center console screen with a display in the instrument cluster.
Blake Strong, a Salt Lake City dealer whose family has sold Audis since 1969, said he will be glad to have a redesigned TT in the showroom. The original TT was "our breakthrough moment with the American public, saying we're going to start producing some cars that have really amazing design," Strong said. "To walk away from that would be foolish, so I'm excited to see Audi sticking with it. But it's a niche car."
Still, the TT is symbolically important to Audi as a company.
Just ask Filip Brabec, director of product planning at Audi of America. When Brabec joined Audi in 1998, the brand had four U.S. product lines, three of them sedans. The outlier was the Cabriolet convertible, which was based on an aging platform and was selling at a clip of barely 1,000 units per year. Then along came the TT.
"This car, at the time, was just so relevant," Brabec said. "This was the emerging market: 'I can have a really small, fun car from Europe.' And for Audi, it was such a brand statement, because the first car was so purist. It was all about Bauhaus design. It was all about form following function."
The TT, styled by a star-studded cast of designers that included J Mays and Peter Schreyer, grabbed attention with its rounded, industrial-looking shape. Americans ate it up.
Strong called the TT the brand's "Apple Macintosh moment," akin to the 1984 introduction of the iconic computer. He got nostalgic just thinking about it.
"The way that little industrial nut-and-bolt feature was featured all through the car," Strong said. "The baseball glove seats. That little short-shift. That was a great little car."
You can reach Gabe Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.