German automakers are very exceptional at answering questions that buyers are always asking them. I know this because, clearly, an esteemed yellow Audi TT owner (who lives in Colorado I'd imagine) rolled out of bed one day, opened the blinds on his bedroom window that overlooked his driveway and languidly stared at his car as he wondered to himself, "Why can't they build that with extra doors and sit it on the lower half of my American government professor's old Subaru? I could finally dust off those skis in the attic and laugh at granolas eating powder at Ajax again."
Somehow, someway, Audi caught wind of Mr. TT Owner From Denver's wooden morning woolgathering and decided it wouldn't be that bad of an idea to answer his query. And so at the Beijing Auto Show about a week ago, they yanked the wraps off of the very yellow and aptly named TT Offroad concept. It didn't take long for enthusiasts and TT purists everywhere to glower and curse in unison. In fact, they still are.
I wish I could just tell everyone to calm down, that's it's just a silly concept car. But it isn't just a silly concept car. Apparently one of Audi's higher-ups, a man named Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg (with a name like that, I'd imagine he exclaims "Achtung Fahrvergnügen!" when he sneezes) likes Mr. TT Owner From Denver's idea so much, he said at Beijing the TT Offroad is — and this is a direct quote here — "a glimpse of how we might imagine a new model in a future TT family."
That means Audi is more than likely going to make it one day very soon. And that suddenly gives me the sneaking suspicion the Colorado State Police may just find a yellow TT on its roof in a ravine before this month is over with.
That's a pity about Mr. TT Owner From Denver because the TT Offroad concept is just the tip of the iceberg. Word through the grapevine says a Ms. TT Owner From Fremont, who has a kid on the way, mentioned at her baby shower that she wishes Audi would build her a version of her car with extra doors and a bigger conventional boot (whatever a "boot" is). Audi may very well just build her that.
I'm afraid that may not be where the line stops, either. There are also rumblings that a certain Mr. TT Owner From Aintry wouldn't mind for Audi to make his next TT with a pickup bed so that he can haul hay and have a spare place to make Ned Beatty squeal like a pig. At this point, well, Audi might just build that too.
Q: Okay, okay. That's cool, yeah. Now I like your little story and all so far, and I'm going to let you finish, but I have a question: What is all of this? Why in the hell is Audi going through the trouble of making all of these different flavors of the TT — its signature designer sports car — for idiot wannabe powder pigs, future soccer moms and even toothless hillbillies?
Gee, thanks for interrupting, Mr. West. I was just about to get to that, thank you very much.
First of all, you technically had two questions there. Second, the answer you're looking for isn't exactly a simple one so it's going to take a handful of paragraphs to explain it properly. Feel free to butt in if you have to, I guess.
I suppose I'll start off by mentioning that conventional wisdom from various blogs and auto rags will tell you that Audi wants to build the TT Offroad to play in the "crossover-coupe" (still haven't figured out what that is supposed to be, either) arena with the BMW X4 and X6. A sedan, should one actually appear, would allow them to compete with something like the 4er Gran Coupe. But that's not whole story here.
Q: So what's the whole story then?
Keep your damn britches on, guy! Good grief.
If you read a little deeper into Dr. Dusseldorf Mustard Heisenberg's statement, you can see the bigger picture come into focus. It's not just that Audi wants a slice of the silly crossover-coupe pie BMW's been gluttonously eating all by itself.
No, what Audi really wants to do here is develop, sell and test new products and ideas and investigate limited markets. But since doing so may or may not return Audi's investment, they want to minimize the risk and cost involved; basically make the gamble less of a gamble, so to speak.
So, in order to accomplish that goal, they've decided that taking an established product — in this case, the TT — and simply building different versions of it would be the best and cheapest approach (economies of scale and whatnot). Or, to put it another way, they've more or less decided to launch a new sub-brand centric to the TT so that they can compete with whatever crazy idea BMW comes up with next.
Q: Okay, so here's my next question: What's a sub-brand? Like Jimmy Johns or something?
Uh, no. Jimmy Johns is a brand of submarine sandwiches, which is totally different. And I'll thank you not to plug sandwich shops or any other product in my article from here on out. Other readers tend to not like that.
A sub-brand is just that: a brand within a brand. Homologous examples to Audi's "future TT family" include BMW's recent "i" series of electric cars or how Toyota developed the Prius into its own sub-brand by adding the sub-compact "C" and van-thing "V" models.
Other examples of sub-brands would be GM's old GEO brand of captive imports sold through Chevrolet dealers back in the '90s or Toyota's current "youth" brand Scion. Even the Oldsmobile Cutlass nameplate became its own sub-brand back in the poodle perm days, its umbrella casting shade on cars like Cutlass Calais, Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Ciera and on and on.
Q: What makes a sub-brand different from a standard model range? Are we going to see more of them?
What's with you and all of these twofer questions of yours? I've been under the impression you were asking questions to hurry me along. We'll never finish here at this rate.
First, I've literally sat here for an amount of minutes trying to think of a good answer to your first question there. I can't really think of a great one. The lines are usually Robin Thicke levels of blurred (okay, just to break the fourth wall for a second, I sincerely apologize for that line). So I'll just move on to your second question then and the answer is: Yes, you are going to see more sub-brands in the future (in addition to the ones we have now).
Now, countless Powerball and scratch-off lotto tickets have taught me that I'm not a betting man, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Chevrolet would be the next eager badger to jump on the bandwagon and give the Volt its own sub-brand that included at least a crossover version. A coupe version could even be a thing too, considering the Cadillac ELR is pretty much just a ritzy version of one of those.
And the sky is literally the limit here. Nothing is off limits. The day could come where Ford finally builds Mustang sedans and shooting brakes because it thinks it can find a customer base greater than the entire population of the Falkland Islands for them.
If there's an unsure market an automaker wants to tap, this will be the way you're going to see a lot of them do it.
Q: So why should I be excited? Why should I care?
Because you like your freedom, dammit. You like choices. And this finally means more alternatives to staid four-door sedans. This means we might get more brown diesel manual wagons — possibly even based off of the Miata — and all of the other things we want so dearly. Think of the possibilities, man!
Q: HELL YEAH! THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT! B-but... uh, I have another question. Can I tell you a secret?
Sure. I guess.
Q: I put that yellow TT driving dickhead into that ravine... I'm so sorry. Are you going to tell the police?
That's just... horrible. Yes, I'm calling the police!