Bruce Richter drives the 2010 Tesla Roadster SportEnlarge Photo
Right after graduating from Art Center in '92, he went to work for VW. And according to him, "It couldn't have been a worse time. If you remember, right around that year VW had their worst U.S. market share in their history. They end up laying off 40% of their employees. I'm this kid just out of school and I'm thinking, I'm in this doomed industry. Everybody's like, 'Why Volkswagen? Why would you go there?'"
Although he had no idea back then, it sounds like that became the very reason to go to VW. Reflecting on Volkswagen's position at the time, Franz pointed out some of the possibilities that presented."Really, it was our playground, it was our opportunity."
And what was that initial opportunity?
"I was involved in Concept One (the New Beetle). It was kind of the first project I got involved in." Considering the influence that project ultimately had on the auto industry, that's not a bad way to kick off a career.
The roster of people surrounding him at Vee Dub probably didn't hurt either.
When I asked Franz if he was at Volkswagen during the Freeman Thomas era, he responded, "Freeman Thomas was actually a teacher of mine at school. And I ended up working with him and J Mays (Ford's current Group VP of Global Design and Chief Creative Officer) and Craig Durfey (credited with designing the original Viper)."
And what was the dynamic like, being thrown into that mix?
"Freeman's a historian first and foremost. So he brings a lot of the history back into his designs. To be around a guy who's constantly pushing the envelope and constantly on the go, it was great as an inspiration for a young designer. So you have Freeman who had just come in from doing some great work for Porsche. J Mays had just done the Avus and a couple of great Audi cars. And Craig had just delivered this über-iconic American sports car. So you have a lot of sports car flair and heritage from Craig, and then you have this real pushing the boundaries design aesthetic - but always erring a little on a flair of Bauhaus - coming from Freeman. And then you had J, who is very succinct in his design discipline, kind of organizing it all."
Not a bad bunch to 'sponge' from, to quote a Franz term.
Another lesson learned from working on the Beetle and TT was brand differentiation.
"If you look at the variety that platform has spun in terms of design capabilities - the Beetle, the TT, the Golf, the Skodas, the SEATs, the Jetta - you get all these unique characteristics, in really differentiated products, all off one basic platform. It's super smart. That's where we are today. And everybody's trying to figure out that recipe."
Hmmm. So what does that mean for Tesla?