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Interview with Peter Olah

In the competitors’ ranks there are really a lot of people with whom we could talk for hours about their hobbies or profession. To give you a chance to get to know our racers, we regularly interview someone. Today, we took aim at experienced racer and great car enthusiast Peter Olah, who has also been responsible for the interior design of all Škoda Auto models since 2015. This talented man is a pride for Slovakia and we are incredibly honored to have him as our participant. Happy reading.

Peter, you’ve been the head of interior design at Škoda Auto worldwide since 2015, but you’ve been with the Volkswagen Group since 2002. What has been your journey, what has been your moti vation?

I’ve dreamed of designing cars one day since I was a little boy. I have to say that I owe a lot to my father, who wanted to be a car designer. But since at that time you couldn’t even study automotive design, he would draw cars at home in his spare time. Very soon I joined him and we shared this enthusiasm. Even though my father eventually turned to electrical engineering professionally and later taught at the Slovak Technical University, my passion for cars remained. During my studies at high school and later at university, I entered various design competitions and when I won one of them, the main prize was an internship in Mladá Boleslav at the Škoda Auto Design Studio. After successfully completing it, I got an offer to do my diploma thesis with Škoda, so I spent the whole diploma year at Škoda Auto and in 2002 I started there as a creative designer, who was supposed to work on concepts and visions for the future. At that time I was working on exteriors and interiors of mainly future concepts. Later I managed to move to a studio in Potsdam near Berlin. It was the Volkswagen Group’s studio, which dealt with visions and strategies for all the Group’s brands, and it was here where I broadened my vision of automotive design and the automotive industry as a whole. Every day I worked on projects for different brands. Once it was Volkswagen, then Audi, Lamborghini or Bugatti. At that time I was also working on my PhD thesis on “Brand Identity in Automotive Industry”. I returned to Škoda Auto when Jozef Kabáň became the chief designer and together we started to change Škoda significantly and give it the form it has today. In 2015 I took over the leadership of interior architecture and later in 2020 I became responsible for the overall interior design of all Škoda cars. There are 4 departments under my responsibility. Firstly interior architecture, which means all the interior objects, components, car seat controls and so on. Next, I am responsible for the department that deals with colours, materials, fabric textures, the so-called Color & Trim department. Thirdly is the so-called User Experience and User Interface, which means the actual user interaction with the product and the digital interfaces. And last but not least, I have the responsibility for the Design Feasibility department, which means the manufacturability and the accompaniment of that particular design into mass production. Once we have a car design approved by the management of the car company, we then have to prepare it for mass production, that is, to optimize it, whether structurally, materially or financially. I have about 50 incredibly talented designers on my team and a great boss, Oliver Stefani.

How would you describe your work, maybe to people outside the profession. When I get into a Skoda, thanks to your design all the buttons are at my fingertips and additionally I have a variety of super-enhancements for a comfortable and safe drive?

Creating car interiors is actually such a relatively complex job, as each interior has to meet a number of criteria. We basically start with ergonomics, which means we need to get seated in the car properly, with the seat, steering wheel, pedals and all the controls positioned correctly. Nowadays, the displays themselves are very important, which means that we are looking for the right position for the display or the control displays and supplementing that with other control components. This is created in the so-called Sitzkiste workroom, or otherwise, in the ergonomic box, where we set all these things up correctly and then, in cooperation with the Color&Trim department, we work out the actual material design. This means that we try to position the user in the space, to surround him with aesthetic and functional surfaces that should be very valuable in terms of material processing. Then the user interaction itself comes into play. What it does with the displays, what it does with the physical controls and how it ‘reads’ the information that modern cars offer today.

What few people may know, you are the author of the trophies for the Tour de Francewinners and you were also behind the creation of the trophies for the Ice Hockey World Championships. WAU! That’s a huge thing. How do you rate this experience? ? Are you aware that any of your creations have remained on home soil and the trophy is in the hands of our national representative?

Besides my work as a car designer, my hobby is Czech crystal glass. Since 2002, when I moved to the Czech Republic, this is what I have been doing in my spare time. I design and produce drink sets, glass installations and various lighting objects with renowned Czech companies. And as you mentioned, perhaps one of my most famous creations are the trophies. Here it is always a very prestigious commission. For example, I’ve been designing Tour de France trophies for 13 years now and it’s always a very interesting experience. I decided at the beginning that the trophies would have a uniform shape each year so that they would be clearly recognisable. Each year, however, the trophies are done in a slightly different technique, just in case one of the cyclists happens to win the trophy more than once. At the beginning I thought this was not so realistic. But Peter Sagan proved me otherwise, he managed to win several of them at the Tour. So he is the one who has all my trophies in Slovakia. You could say I’ve always been a fan of cycling, but it wasn’t until I started designing these trophies that I started to follow these races more closely. I also had the opportunity to design the Most Valuable Player trophies for the Ice Hockey World Championships. My personal highlight, as I am a big fan of cars and car racing, was the opportunity to design trophies for the F1 World Champions – Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

No doubt you are close to motoring, one would say especially to modern design cars, but you are also drawnto historic ones. How did you get into this hobby?

As a car designer, I try to look not only to the future, but I always look to historic cars for inspiration. As I mentioned before, my father strongly encouraged me to get into motoring. Ever since I was a little boy, we used to go to races, shows and admire vintage cars together. Ten years ago, I managed to restore a car that belonged to my grandfather to its original condition. Then it was my father’s car and when I was 18 years old it was my first car. It is a 1958 Fiat 600. It is the first 600 model, with doors that open in the opposite direction. It was the first car I learned to drive and I really did my time in that car at 18. I’m very proud that we were able to put it back in the condition my grandfather bought it. It’s our family jewel. I have to admit, though, that I’m a big fan of Porsche cars, and this brand’s vintage cars are my faible. It was at this year’s 500KM SLOVENSKÝCH that I had the opportunity to drive a beautiful 356 loaned to me by Karol Pavlu, for which I thank him very much. We really enjoyed the race together.

Which historic car would you, as an expert, say is really sophisticated in design, not taking functionality into account of course. Do you have a dream model that you would like to do 500 KM SLOVENSKÝCH with?

I love old race cars, so if I had to pick a dream car, it would probably be a Ferrari 250 GTO. A car that I admire because of its minimalist shape, perfect aerodynamics and also the fact that it is actually a race car. I also admire the 1957 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. So, if I really had the opportunity to choose any car for a rally, it would be one of those two. On the other hand, as I mentioned, I’m a big Porsche fan, so for me driving any vintage Porsche is always a great experience. As a Škoda designer I often go to our museum in Mladá Boleslav, there are also a few pieces there that I love and would love to drive sometime. For example, there’s the Skoda 1100 OHC – a racing car that it’s not really known that Skoda ever made anything like that. Also worth mentioning is definitely the racing Skoda 110 or 130 R, the so-called “Porsche of the East”. And last but not least, I’d add the Popular Monte Carlo to my favorites.

What do you like about the 500 KM SLOENSKÝCH race and where do you see room for improvement?

My dad and I have had the opportunity to do the race twice already. In the 2022 edition we went only to the “Bratislava stage” to Pezinská Baba. This year Šimon convinced us into trying the whole race and it was an amazing week. Really incredible, not only the cars that were at the start, but also the people that were there with those cars. The racing during the day was great, but then especially the conversations in the evening with people who are really deep into those vintage cars was a great experience for me. They’re incredibly knowledgeable and they’re big fans of the cars, which for me as someone who loves motoring, it was a fantastic week full of learning new things from smarter people. For example, I could stand to listen to Karol Pavlů or Dany Dick talk endlessly. If I had to think about where I see the improvement, it’s safe to say that I’d be hard pressed to pick any fault. The race was really well organized and prepared. We also really enjoyed everything during the trip. Perhaps what I would have appreciated is if the reception of the cars in Bratislava in the city was more warm, but apparently Šimon and his team are already working on some surprises here too, so I’m very curious about that.

Are you going to race in the upcoming edition in which 500KM SLOVENSKÝCHbecomes FIVA WORLD RALLY SLOVAKIA 2024? What are your ambitions?Would you find a place at home for the winner’s trophy? 😊

We would definitely like to take part in the race in 2024 and we are already looking forward to it. And what are my ambitions? I am realistic in this respect, I am not aspiring to win the race. It’s more about meeting the people, enjoying the week itself and having lots of good conversations and unforgettable memories.