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Profile: Telaak’s Challenge: Redesigning an Automotive Icon

Designing a vehicle that becomes the identity of a brand can be a challenging task, although one could argue that redesigning that established icon is even more daunting.

Designing a vehicle that becomes the identity of a brand can be a challenging task, although one could argue that redesigning that established icon is even more daunting. That’s the task that was handed to Gary Telaak, senior exterior designer at Audi in 2001, when management of the German luxury brand asked him to redesign the TT. Fresh from putting the finishing touches on the A3 (see: AD&P, July ‘05 or Introducing The A3), Telaak wasted little time getting neck-deep in taking the TT through its first evolution. “It was very important that the new car had a strong familial resemblance and was recognizable in the blink of an eye as a TT,” says the Argentina-born designer, noting it was critical to maintain the circular wheel arches, dome-shaped roofline and overall stance of the original. “We then carefully blended in those themes that ensure the new TT is also recognizable as a new Audi—the single-frame grille and more emotional surface treatment.” Telaak and his five-member team presented five design proposals for the revised TT to Audi’s senior management before the final vehicle was chosen; most of the themes were created by Spanish designer Jorge Diez. Telaak admits that the design to be selected couldn’t have been too radical as compared with the original TT; for one thing, the new design would have to enable the two generations to “sit side-by-side in a parking lot and both be credible.” The team then spent the next three years molding the chosen design into clay and metal.

While the new TT is longer and wider than its predecessor, and rides on an aluminum and steel spaceframe in lieu of the original’s unitary steel construction, Telaak’s team managed to keep the car sleek and compact thanks to the use of character lines and surfacing treatments: “The emotional surface treatment, with its use of convex and concave shapes and the effects of light and shadow, created tension in the surfaces and a sleek overall appearance,” he says. Since TT’s customer base tends be very discerning and most of the design team at Audi’s Ingolstadt, Germany, headquarters own one, Telaak didn’t have to look far for input from current TT owners: “What owners wanted from the successor model was an even more sporty car that was still most definitely a TT. I think we delivered.” One of the key features of the new exterior is the rear spoiler, which deploys at speeds over 75 mph, as opposed to the prior model, which has a fixed spoiler. Telaak says he fought for the electronic spoiler because of his affinity for objects that change their appearance as the result of a physical situation: “The wing of an aircraft looks different when the flaps deploy for landing, and a predator like a tiger changes to a more alert posture when preparing to pounce. In other words, rear spoiler is a very dynamic part of the new TT.” 

Inside, the TT design team stayed true to the original, with a touch of modern interpretation. The theme is circles, as with the previous model, although the cockpit has taken a more driver-oriented configuration. “This is something we are working on a lot at Audi,” Telaak says. “The emotions generated by the interior of the new TT are particularly strong when sitting in the driver’s seat.” Another key piece of the interior design is the decision to assimilate the character line that runs along the shoulder of the exterior into the cabin: “The character line floats forward over the dashboard towards the driver. We really worked on the forward-orientation of lines in the interior in great detail,” Telaak says, adding he’s confident the new TT respects the foundation laid by its predecessor, while also attracting a new group of customers to the Audi family.
 

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