AUSTIN, Texas - It is a rare treat to catch a top-level auto executive dancing with some of his staffers at the back of a roomful of reporters.
But there was Audi of America's chief, Len Hunt, boogieing to beat the band. This energetic display came after a day of driving the new Audi TT Coupe through the hills of West Texas with members of the press.
And it would seem Hunt had something to dance about.
For one thing, he had avoided getting a speeding ticket that afternoon. Hunt said he got lucky because the officer was far more interested in check-ing out the head-turning lines of the TT than he was in issuing a citation.
Hunt's real cause for celebration? With the introduction of the TT Coupe, Audi's 'brand-defining moment' has arrived. 'The car says everything that we want to say about Audi,' Hunt said. 'Everything is wrapped up in that single car.'
EXTENDING THE RANGE
The TT Coupe - in U.S. showrooms the first week of May - is Audi's range-extending foray into the sports car market. It is intended to manifest the brand traits of advanced technology, high performance, distinctive design and emotional appeal.
That brand halo is meant to surround the entire Audi lineup and to stimulate traffic to showrooms that - with Hunt's particular attentions - will be at increasingly exclusive Audi dealerships.
Audi of America's annual sales goal for the TT is a modest 10,000, once the Coupe is joined by the TT Roadster next spring. Before then, a quattro version will arrive this fall, and a 225-hp engine will join the introductory 1.8-liter, 180-hp turbocharged four-cylinder.
Hunt acknowledged that the 10,000 figure for North America seems low for the huge demand Audi expects. The carmaker projects 50,000 TT Coupes and Roadsters will be built each year in Gyor, Hungary.
Aimed at such rivals as the Porsche Boxster, the Mercedes-Benz SLK and the BMW Z3, the TT Coupe can be had for $31,000, including destination, a price at the very low end of that field.
The typical buyer of a TT Coupe, according to Audi, will be a married 40-year-old male college graduate whose household earns $80,000 a year. Three-quarters of those in this target market will have Internet access, and 40 percent already will own three or more other vehicles.
Backing up that last prediction was a phenomenon noted at an April meeting of about 70 members of a regional Porsche owners' club near Detroit. Three of the attendees were eagerly awaiting delivery of TT Coupes to add to their stables of other Teutonic icons.
To reach buyers like these, Audi plans a strong TV presence with some quite serious, rather existential ads beginning May 17.
SHADES OF KARMANN GHIA
The first thing that will keep viewers in their seats during the TV ads and make drivers crane their necks on the highway is the TT Coupe's high style. From the almost retro roof line (think Karmann Ghia) to the way the wheel wells hug the wheels, the car's silhouette and its low, crouching stance are super-sporty and unmistakably German.
A bold and high-tech styling theme pervades the exterior and interior. The racy aluminum fuel-filler cap with its countersunk Allen screws is a quirky touch. The matte aluminum theme is repeated inside on the gear shifter, the air vents and even the cupholders.
This 2+2 has typically stingy rear legroom, but a welcome feature is that the back seats fold down to provide the TT Coupe with the same cargo-carrying space as the Audi A4 sedan.
The TT's sensual appeal also extends to its road performance. Throttle response is immediate, turbo lag is absent, shifts are smooth and easy, and the sound of the engine is a pleasing low rumble.
The TT handled the dips and curves of Texas two-lanes with ease, and, as Hunt would attest, obeying the speed limits required some effort.