Advertisement

Andreas Mindt's plan to fix Volkswagen's ID crisis

andreasdesign
andreasdesign

In June 1993, Autocar asked a group of students at Coventry University’s School of Transport Design to imagine a modern reinterpretation of the Caterham Seven.

Exactly 31 years later, one of the students featured – a German, then on exchange from the Pforzheim University School of Design – is back on Autocar for his efforts at reinvigorating a long-running car brand.

Except this time it isn’t a hypothetical exercise: Andreas Mindt is now head of design at Volkswagen, and he has been tasked with helping spark fresh life into one of the world’s biggest car marques.

On his return to Wolfsburg in February last year, he had just weeks to pen the ID 2all, a model that neatly balances modern design with retro flourishes – and it was incredibly well received.

ADVERTISEMENT

The concept was upbeat, friendly and infectiously enthusiastic, much like the man who led its design.

Most importantly, the ID 2all – and Volkswagen boss Thomas Schäfer’s new ‘love brand’ concept – served as a major course correction after years of somewhat anonymous ID electric models, with an approach that sees the manufacturer embracing its traditions without getting stuck in the past.

This immediate impact Mindt has had on his return to Volkswagen is why we have named him our Design Hero for 2024.

Mindt joined the Volkswagen Group in 1996, shortly after graduating, and worked on the first-generation Tiguan and the fabled Golf Mk7.

He moved to Audi in 2014 and penned cars as diverse as the A1, the E-tron GT and the A2-aping AI:ME concept before switching to Bentley in 2021, where his design on the limited-run Batur helped chart the direction for the brand’s future electric cars.

The return from Bentley to Volkswagen came about suddenly, with Mindt getting a call from Schäfer and new VW Group boss Oliver Blume.

“There was a meeting in December [2022] with the CEO and some board members, and I did a little presentation to explain what I would do with Volkswagen,” says Mindt.

“Big chunks of that are still in what we’re doing now. There was a match to the brand: I grew up in Wolfsburg and have it in my blood. I know exactly what to do with Volkswagen. It sounds a bit self-confident, but I really believe there’s a certain way to do it.”

When Mindt says he grew up in Wolfsburg, he means it: his father was a designer for Volkswagen (“so I learned from an early age there was a job like this”), and his parents owned a Beetle. “We were four kids and we’d all sit in the rear, no belts at all,” he recalls.

“It was yellow, I still know the numberplate and can still recall the smell and the sound.” Mindt learned to drive in a diesel Golf (“if you let the clutch out too early you’d just kill the engine; it was the hardest car to learn in”), and bought himself a Beetle as his first car for 500 Deutschmarks.

“It was the cheapest car you could get,” he says. Mindt still owns a 1970 version today.

So when Mindt was given just six weeks to design a concept for a small electric VW but within considerable constraints (it had to sit on the running gear of the much-maligned ID Life concept), he had already been thinking about it for decades.

“I started my job in February,” he says, “and in the middle of March we had the presentation. I had to start running; it was jumping into the water no matter the temperature.

There was high pressure: I had to move from England to Germany, so I had to let other people sort that. I’m still missing some things! My sole focus in those six weeks was to transform our new strategy into this product.

“With only six weeks it had to be a zero-mistake process. If you make one mistake it’s in the car. It’s crazy pressure: this was a starting point for Volkswagen. And now we’re going through the portfolio and connecting this to that.”

Mindt admits it’s “a bit strange” for a car maker to start a design reinvention with a small model, but he says the approach fits the ‘people’s car’ heritage that dates back to VW’s origins.

“The Beetle is a very optimistic, happy-looking, friendly car,” he adds.

“It’s not eating people, you know: other cars, they’re trying to eat everything, like eating the street or something. Volkswagen is not about that, it’s not all super-duper; it’s being the friendliest in the room.

“If you’re a volume maker you’re interested in not polarising, and most people want to look self-confident and happy. Not cute or comical, like a Mickey Mouse car, but optimistic and happy. This is what people want, not aggressive.”

The ID 2all was followed last year by a sporty ID GTI variant, which further cemented VW’s future design language and showed how the performance sub-brand will be reinvented for the modern era.

“We did the ID GTI to explain the Volkswagen brand more,” says Mindt. “It has to be two things: stable and likeable.

And the third one is the secret sauce: the special, unexpected, inspiring stuff we had to add. The first two are homework and are seen in the ID 2. The third was not so easy to understand: what do we mean by secret sauce?

“To explain that we did the GTI concept. There’s a lot of secret sauce on it. There’s a good stance on it, for example, which makes it look safe and stable but also very sporty, like you want to drive it round corners like a go-kart. With the GTI we dialled everything up so you can really understand what we mean.”

The GTI concept is full of little design cues, although Mindt says it’s the “strong basic architecture” that forms the “big building bricks” of a car design. “It always comes first, and you feel it, but very few people talk about it,” he says. “When you have a slim body and wide axles, it looks really good.”

Those small details help convince purists Volkswagen is connecting with its past, but they must have a function, says Mindt, “otherwise it’s just a decorative element – and we don’t want to do decoration any more”. He points to the hubcaps that feature the textured ‘golf ball’ pattern that apes the gearstick knob of manual GTI cars.

Mindt and his design team won’t just be leaning on past cues: they are currently working on 49 model lines and 150 different models.

“That’s a bit crazy,” he admits. “It’s really a lot.” While many of those models will use shared platforms, VW has begun to diverge from its previous strategy of global models and design towards more region-specific cars, particularly in North America and tech-focused China.

The best example is the ID Code concept unveiled at this year’s Beijing show: it features design cues that will be seen on future European models, but it showcases a more bespoke design for China.

“We have to create a design for Volkswagen globally, and then we develop for each region certain elements, and certain sizes of cars as well,” says Mindt.

“A hot hatch matches perfectly to Europe, but it has a minor role in North America and China.

In China they are very interested in light elements, and they want to showcase the sensors around the car in a way you would not do in Europe.”

Mindt’s first appearance in Autocar in 1993 came from designing a bold new concept. He still owns five copies of that issue, and gleefully notes we put his idea on the opening spread, while his friend Klaus Busse – now Maserati’s design chief – was relegated to the final page.

This time, of course, Mindt’s ideas will become reality: the production version of the ID 2all will be seen later this year; it will be followed by a crossover using the same MEB Entry platform and then the production version of the ID GTI.

Mindt says that will be close to the concept, and he is adamant all three will be packed with Volkswagen’s ‘secret sauce’.

Given his enthusiasm and passion, it feels like that secret sauce also pulses through Mindt himself. Volkswagen’s design future is surely in safe hands.

]]>