Volkswagen displays its all-new Arteon at the Petersen, surrounded by high-fashion photography exhibit

By Glenn Oyoung

The Petersen Automotive Museum is a must-see stop for car lovers. It’s a celebration of not only the priceless and interesting cars on display, but also of Los Angeles’ unique role in shaping car culture since the inception of the automobile. The Pete (as its lovingly known) is a tribute to the intersection of cars and LA’s fashion and entertainment complexes — a fact that the masterminds at Volkswagen no doubt took into consideration when selecting it as the venue to bring out its all-new halo sedan, the 2019 Arteon.

VW’s PR team rolled out the red carpet for a selection of LA’s influencer and other hip-looking people, and then suburban dads like me trying to look cool. (BTW I think that is the target demographic for this car, thank you very much.) This was not just a “Hey let’s park our sexy new sedan at Petersen and call it a day” activation. No, this was an event replete with an exhibit featuring glamorous photos of the Arteon and fashion models shot by photographer and filmmaker Douglas Sonders. There was also a design workshop held by Reto Brun, the head of VW’s Design Center California (DCC).

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In between admiring the photos, enjoying the ambience, and being impressed by the execution of the event (including details like the coolest VW-shaped flash drives ever — sorry that’s the promotional products geek in me) I had the chance to spend a lot of the evening admiring the Arteon with Reto and peppered him with questions about the new sporty sedan. We’d love to go out and pay him a visit as he is truly a passionate gear head and a lover of California car culture to boot.

I’ll be honest, I kind of expected the Arteon to be a sleeker Passat based on my desk jockey research efforts. Look at the VW CC back when sedan/coupes-not-literally-coupes first caught traction, and you’ll see why. That’s why when I turned the corner from the bar and caught the first glimpse of the Arteon I was pleasantly surprised by its design. Seeing the Arteon in person is believing. It exudes sportiness. You can tell right away this is a Volkswagen — there are enough design cues to confirm its lineage. That being said the Arteon has so many unique character lines that set it apart from its stablemates, making it clear it’s the baddest in the bunch.

While I love cars and I know enough to be dangerous with the Adobe Creative Suite, I sadly am not well-versed in the concepts of car design. I just know it when I like it. I shared with Reto that I just had the urge to grab the keys and flog the Arteon at first glance, and was struggling to explain why. Having an Art Center-trained head of a design studio is not something I have on tap everyday (btw we should make an app for that!) so I figured I’d ask him to explain what’s going on with the Arteon’s design to instill that reaction from not only me but the other car lovers in the audience.

Reto Brun, Director of Volkswagen Design Center California (DCC)

 

LA Car’s One-on-One Design Workshop with Reto Brun

The role of DCC was limited to the initial stages of the Arteon design. The newly-installed head of DCC was on hand to lend his perspective as a designer, VW veteran, and all-around car guy. 

LA Car: I immediately know when I like a car’s design but articulating why is a bit tougher for me. This car kind of wowed me when I turned the corner. Can you break down the Arteon from a design perspective and what makes it so attention-grabbing?

Reto Brun: Well, at Volkswagen proportion is a huge deal. I learned that when I was at (VW headquarters) Wolfsburg in my first five years there. At ArtCenter it’s all about new ideas and pushing it and being super creative and so on.

But then actually I really understood that to create these really good proportions there’s just the right way of doing it and really taking care of that. And to me, that’s a huge element of cars looking good. You can have the most amazing theme on a car but if you have the proportions off its going to be an ugly car. So that’s the starting point for every VW.

 

LAC: You’re not starting off  with a blank slate either. (The Arteon sits on VW’s MQB platform with stablemates including the Jetta, Passat, Atlas)

RB: You try to get the best of what you can from a packaging standpoint. This car of course, being a more sporty-oriented car, you already have a better starting point. It has more shoulder, more width-to-cabin ratio so you get that more muscular feel on the rear fenders, the nice swooping roofline that’s very elegant, very dynamic, so for me coming from a sports-car, racing, and motorcycle background this car totally gives me that feeling and it’s still a four-seater car, I have a family, I have two kids. This car works for me and not only is it very sporty, it’s very modern.

 

LAC: Design-wise this feels very upscale to me, from all the different angles it’s sporty and clean. So you get to have your fun but still get the practicality.

RB: The front end is very nicely executed. The way the grille is totally fluid going into the headlights, I mean this is stuff that nobody did a few years ago that is really truly modern. At VW we always try to emphasize the width of the car, we work with a lot of horizontal lines.

What they did in the front is pretty much the extreme of that. I think it’s really a stunning execution.

LAC: I tend to always feel like the front of a car is the face, and I place extra weight on that for some reason personally.

RB: For sure, there’s always aspects of that you relate the car to people. The face, the shoulder, the stance, it’s all related to humans or animals.

LAC: With VW, I can always see a family resemblance even with cars that are very different from one another.  Talk to me about that. What goes into that.

RB: Sometimes when you do a design you come up with a really interesting theme but it makes the front look narrow or awkward, but it’s really fresh. A lot of times at  VW they will say “No we’re not going to do that. Because even though it’s interesting it really hampers the overall feel of the car.”

LAC: And generationally maybe it it just jumps too much. You kind of wonder what is going on where you can’t even tell its the same car over the years.

RB: It’s kind of an ideology as well. Some people are looking at the most new, most different. But sometimes it makes cars age quickly, so for me that’s why I really believe in the VW philosophy that you’re doing things that you know work in the long run. And there’s certain characteristics over and over that make a beautiful car.

For me the exciting thing with the Arteon is that it is a very modern design as well so we’re working with traditional elements but we came up with a very nice, modern take on it which is why I’m particularly excited about this car.