LA Auto Show 2006: Designers’ Tuesday

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January 3, 2006

By: Jason Teller

Los Angeles – With Los Angeles firmly cemented as the first major North American auto show of the year, manufacturers (including Audi) have begun a more rigorous “care and feeding” of journalists and other interested folks during press days. Press days here will begin tomorrow – Wednesday – so Audi used Tuesday night to host “Designers’ Tuesday”. Conceived as a cross between a panelist discussion on the converging elements of automotive, environmental and architectural design and an old fashioned wine ‘n dine, Designers’ Tuesday was clearly all about building awareness of the Audi brand.

According to Audi of America spokeswoman Jennifer Cortez, Audi currently believes it has the products and increasingly the dealer network and reliability to solidify itself as a premium German import. It now seeks to continue building the overall image of the brand around these positive variables.

Held at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, attendees were greeted at the entrance by two of Audi’s newest offerings: the Q7 SUV and the RS 4. Once inside – in a space that incidentally was at one time an old Lockheed Martin wind tunnel – there was a plethora of vehicles, display elements, billboard-format wall coverings and tables interspersed in an area slightly smaller than a football field.

Scanning the room, first up was the Shooting Brake concept which was of course last seen at the Tokyo show. Even better looking in person than the photographs, the Shooting Brake’s curves look good from all angles – of course enormous wheels don’t hurt the visual appeal either.

Between the Shooting Brake and the other corner of the room, where the Le Mans quattro concept was positioned, was a stage area with a row of lounge chairs and a drafting table (more on that later). The Le Mans quattro, as most people know, has been confirmed to go into production and will be named the R8.

In one back corner was the always fascinating RSQ, the futuristic Audi designed for the movie “I, Robot” which is set in the year 2035. The car was prominently featured in the movie and was on display two years ago at the New York International Auto Show, among other shows. Unfortunately they did not leave the doors unlocked on the RSQ so we were not able to do our Will Smith impersonation.

Completing the circle around the room, the final vehicle was the first-time-shown-in-the-US Audi S8 with its beefy wheels, styling and lusty V10 under the hood.

What perhaps made this evening event different from other run-of-the-mill auto events was the Los Angeles factor. Here we are talking about the inevitable proximity to the west coast social scene and everything that comes with it. Hundreds of mostly middle aged men in suits were instead replaced with a lively mixture of young and old, connected individuals and mere journalist mortals, pretty boys (and girls) and normal folks. There was no identification required to enter so it was even possible that a few crashers were in our midst enjoying finger foods and free booze.

That said the evening was intended to be more of a showcase than a social event and it certainly succeeded. Audi’s executives and dignitaries were out in full force, including Audi Chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Audi of America head boss Johan de Nysschen, Audi design chief Walter de’Silva, Audi racing legend Tom Kristensen, Champion Racing team owner Dave Maraj and Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.

Winterkorn led things off with a welcome and a reminder to the crowd of at least 250 people that we would be hearing about exclusive design insights of Audi brand. Winterkorn revealed that the R8 would be available in the 1st quarter of 2007 and added that a vehicle based on the Shooting Brake concept would “possibly be seen in the near future.”

He was later followed by de’Silva who captivated the crowd with his beautiful sketching and commentary, the former of which was captured for all to see on the large screen above the stage. Exuding passion and excitement, and all the while a bit difficult to understand with his heavy Italian accent, de’Silva illustrated various Audi design elements by drawing out the side profile, front profile and rear profile of a typical Audi. He referred to the singleframe grille as the “personality” of the car and noted that the headlight lenses were always to be separate from the grille. The crowd absolutely ate it up.

de’Silva at one point mentioned a new concept vehicle which will apparently be shown for the first time next week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. He did not provide a name or many details except to say it was “the type of car one could enjoy driving around Los Angeles”. Images briefly flashed onto the overhead screen and showed a crossover looking vehicle – like a baby Q7. We will obviously have the full details from Detroit.

Johan de Nysschen closed the show saying he was “basically a sales guy at heart” and then went on to praise the evolved Audi dealer network and to provide a quick summary of Audi of America’s 2005 performance (83,000+ vehicles for a 7% year over year increase). He also revealed – one day early – that the sticker price on the Q7 will start at $49,900.

de Nysschen finally added that he was bad at keeping secrets. A side wall was opened to reveal the brand new R10 race car with Tom Kristensen sitting in the cockpit. Kristensen and Dr. Ullrich spent a little time talking about the diesel powered racecar, noting specifically that it was a tremendously difficult undertaking since nobody had ever run a diesel powerplant in an endurance racing series.

In the end the event was more than just filler for out of town journalists prior to the LA press days. Audi provided a well thought out presentation regarding the brand’s design principles and gave people the opportunity to see a wide range of brand representation. With the ultimate S8 sedan on one end of the room and the revolutionary TDI R10 racecar on the other side (not to mention everything in between), attendees were immersed in the Audi brand. Somewhere tonight Jennifer Cortez and the rest of the management team must be smiling at a job well done.

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