Tesla Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen talks EV design on Ride the Lightning podcast

It’s rare for any current Tesla exec whose name isn’t Musk to speak to the press, so Ryan McCaffrey pulled off a coup when he scored an interview with Tesla Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen for his Ride the Lightning podcast.

Holzhausen, the designer of Models S, X, 3, Y and the Tesla Semi, discusses Tesla’s design language and the challenges of creating compelling EVs in a lengthy interview that’s well worth listening to in its entirety.

Holzhausen worked for VW, GM and Mazda before being personally recruited to Tesla by Elon Musk. Why leave a steady gig for what was then a shaky startup? “Designers always want to figure out the next thing, and the next thing at Mazda was not as interesting and alluring as what Elon was selling,” Holzhausen tells McCaffrey. Furthermore, “Everywhere else in the industry, sustainability, which was important to me, was kind of a side thing…and Elon was all in, it was do or die – we make it work or we are not a company.”

Another thing that Holzhausen found frustrating at the majors was their habit of designing concept vehicles that are never destined to go into production (a frustration shared by certain journalists). At Tesla, his masterpieces went from the design studio to the street in record time.

Designing Model S was a challenge no auto designer had faced before. With no need to design around an engine, transmission tunnel or exhaust system, Holzhausen had endless possibilities. However, that unprecedented freedom was also a bit “scary.”

The electric powertrain allowed Model S to be designed with a tremendous amount of interior space – more than many SUVs.

Unlike earlier EV designers, who created goofy-looking “spaceships,” Musk, Holzhausen and their team understood that car buyers wanted elegance, but also conformity. Superlative aesthetics have always been very much a part of their quest to build “not just the best electric cars, but the best cars.”

Tesla’s famous self-presenting door handles reflect a desire to make a driver’s first point of contact with the car a memorable experience, as Holzhausen told GigaOm in 2013. “It’s such a shame when you see other vehicles that that’s one of the first elements that they cost-reduced. The first contact you have is the cheapest part on the car.” (I know exactly what he means – both of the plastic door handles on my 2015 LEAF are already falling apart, although otherwise the car is in fine shape.)

Holzhausen’s involvement with his creations is ongoing. Model S has undergone continuous improvement, and both the exterior and interior have been updated several times. Tesla’s vehicles will “never be constrained by something we’ve done in the past,” Holzhausen told Ride the Lightning – there will be no “Tesla Bible” that has to be followed. It’s all about creating “beautiful products.”

Source: Ride the Lightning

  • Ormond Otvos

    Tesla isn’t doing a reasonably priced car yet, much less a minivan. There are good ICE vehicles for half their cheapest sedan.

    • dogphlap dogphlap

      You can buy any car you want within your budget. No one is twisting anyone’s arm to buy a Tesla or any other vehicle.

    • bob

      you buy the car and take a financial hit then drive for years with very little costs. I have been driving EVs for 5 1/2 years. Had a Leaf and a Volt. Now we have a Tesla Model 3 and a Bolt. Buy wiper fluid and not much else. Biggest expense was when the rear wiper broke in a storm on the Leaf. And replacing the cabin air filter. Done with gas.