How Tesla designs vehicles to look so good


Tesla Model 3The Tesla Model three.Timothy Artman/Tesla

  • Designer Franz von Holzhausen had a formidable resume earlier than becoming a member of Tesla.
  • But the mix of his frustration with the standard auto trade and Elon Musk’s distinctive concepts about how you can clear up issues has taken his work to a brand new stage.
  • He’s adopted an unlikely path to turning into probably the most influential automobile designer of his era.

Before Franz von Holzhausen signed on with what was then known as Tesla Motors in 2010, he was on his method to being a member of the automotive design world’s elite.

He had graduated from Art Center College of Design within the early 1990s, making him an alumnus of the world’s most prestigious transportation design program, counting amongst its graduates the likes of J. Mays, Chris Bangle, and Henrik Fisker.

At General Motors, he designed a pair of beautiful roadsters, the Pontiac Solstice the the Saturn Sky. From there he wish to Mazda North America, the place he ran your entire present and garnered reward for his ideas automobiles.

If Holzhausen had remained on that observe, he would have been a car-design aristocrat. Instead, he too an enormous leap of religion and joined a buzzy Silicon Valley startup, removed from the automotive capitals in Michigan, Japan, and Germany. And he turned probably the most influential designer of his era.

Yes, I do know that is an enormous badertion. Jaguar’s Ian Callum or Aston Martin’s Marek Reichman may object, and Luc Donckerwolke is capturing loads of consideration for his work a Hyundai, following a stint designing Lamborghinis.

But the important thing issue for Holzhausen is that as Tesla rolls out its Model three sedan, attacking the mbad market, he is witnessing the return on his dangerous resolution to affix CEO Elon Musk again when Tesla was promoting just one automobile, the unique Roadster. Many designers of excessive fame who’re about Holzhausen’s age (he is 49) proceed to imaging the long run throughout the context of the previous.

Holzhausen will get to ascertain the long run by itself phrases — attractive electrical vehicles that can sometime have the ability to drive themselves. The automobile designer of the approaching many years may admire the legends if the career’s historical past (and there have been many). But in terms of crafting a profession and a fame, they may look Holzhausen.

I not too long ago acquired the possibility to talk with Holzhausen and he shared some particulars about how he got here to affix Tesla and what guides his design philosophy.

It was Holzhausen, not Musk, who was the budding celebrity again within the late 2000s.

When Holzhausen joined Tesla in 2010, reminiscences of a near-bankruptcy in 2008 had been nonetheless contemporary. The firm had solely a single automobile to promote — the Lotus-based Roadster — and though it had stoked enthusiasm with all-electric vehicles that had been quick and attractive and would elevate $226 million in an IPO shortly after Holzhausen arrived, the carmaker lived on the sting of a knife.

Even although the standard auto trade had endured its personal near-death expertise in the course of the monetary disaster, by 2010 General Motors had staged its personal IPO, returning to the general public markets after a authorities bailout and chapter. Moribund auto gross sales had begun a restoration, and different electric-car startups had been exhibiting the strains of introducing new applied sciences; most would fail. Loads of specialists figured Tesla can be out of enterprise in a couple of years, as the price of launching new automobiles killed the corporate.

But Holzhausen was pissed off with the standard trade and able to depart Mazda. A couple of chats and conferences with Musk proved that the skilled designer and the entrepreneur with a designer’s sensibility had been on the identical web page, sharing imaginative and prescient and values.

For Holzhausen, it was Musk’s and Tesla’s absolute dedication that cinched the deal. Musk has stated that he and Holzhausen share the identical style, so past that essential side of the connection, it boiled right down to how severe Musk was about utterly remaking the panorama of transportation.

The backside line for Holzhausen? 

“Tesla was all in,” he stated in an interview with Business Insider.


Holzhausen mission was to create a “world-clbad design competency” for Tesla. The firm’s first automobile was cool, however the Roadster was based mostly on a Lotus design. Holzhausen would have the practically distinctive alternative to start out from scratch.

Holzhausen mission was to create a "world-clbad design competency" for Tesla. The company's first car was cool, but the Roadster was based on a Lotus design. Holzhausen would have the nearly unique opportunity to start from scratch.


Tesla’s roadmap, drawn up by Musk, was easy. The firm needed to first create an thrilling electrical automobile that may change the impressions that EVs had been glorified golf carts. That automobile can be offered at a excessive value to early adopters and followers of high-performance, unique sports activities vehicles. 

The cash would fund further, luxurious, dear electrical automobiles, and that cash would offer the funding for the primary main endgame: a mbad-market automobile meant to convey long-range electrical mobility to the lots.

The Roadster’s Lotus underpinnings meant that when these ran out, Tesla would wish a brand new automobile. For Holzhausen, going to work at Tesla’s earliest design studio in Hawthorne, CA, at SpaceX headquarters, that meant about two years to give you a brand new automobile — a uncommon alternative to pen a “clean sheet” design.

Roadster manufacturing would section out by 2012. And regardless, Tesla needed to begin promoting a extra versatile lineup or automobiles. While a snazzy two-seater was enjoyable to drive and thrilling to take a look at — extra so once you realized you had been working solely on electrons — folks wished to purchase sedans and SUVs.

Holzhausen had a variety of work forward of him.

Tesla zigged relatively than zagged with the Model S, which was revealed in 2011 and went on sale the next 12 months. And Holzhausen launched his personal design philosophy.

Tesla zigged rather than zagged with the Model S, which was revealed in 2011 and went on sale the following year. And Holzhausen introduced his own design philosophy.


The auto trade is over a century previous. Tesla is the primary new carmaker to emerge in many years. So it is simply concerning the rarest factor possible for a automobile designer to have the ability to think about a brand new automobile with out feeling the specific burden of the previous. Just attempt to sketch a brand new Mustang at Ford or Corvette at Chevy. 

Tesla was saying itself as a actual automobile firm with the Model S, so Holzhausen knew that his concepts would outline the visible vocabulary of quite a few automobiles to observe: SUVs, sports activities vehicles, coupés, in all probability even pickup vans and vans. The complete tamale. 

Loads of designers would have let it rip and tried to be the subsequent Giorgetto Giugiaro, the essential Italian designer of Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, and Maseratis. In a way, Holzhausen did grow to be the subsequent Guigaro, minus the extra flamboyant efforts. Giugiaro designed dozen of vehicles, and never all of them made viewers robotically weak within the knees.

Holzhausen let Musk be his information. Musk embraces one thing known as “first principles thinking” and has made it right into a mantra at Tesla. The concept is to keep away from pondering by badogy — let’s make this automobile seem like that automobile, simply kind of totally different or higher — and as a substitute take care of issues by stripping them right down to the core and dealing your manner up.

Holzhausen’s model of this has been to embrace what he calls “efficiency.” He badumes that each Tesla must be lovely, and in addition to, making a bit of commercial design lovely would not actually price something. It’s extra a matter of selecting magnificence as a primary precept as a result of, in a aggressive market, the best-looking product stands out.

With effectivity, Holzhausen had an idea that might inform not simply the design of the Model S sedan but additionally your entire, evolving Tesla model.


The Model S embodies radical restraint. It attracts consideration with out demanding consideration. For Holzhausen, it is a imaginative and prescient of the long run that almost anybody can perceive.

The Model S embodies radical restraint. It draws attention without demanding attention. For Holzhausen, it's a vision of the future that just about anyone can understand.


It’s additionally consultant of Holzhausen’s restrained strategy at Tesla. The Model S primarily seems the identical because it did when it debuted. The predominant replace was to the entrance finish, when Tesla eradicated a faux-grille nostril cones and went with a clean remedy.

With an electrical automobile, there is no want for a standard grille as a result of there is no internal-combustion engine to feed with oxygen or cool with airflow and a radiator.

The comparatively conservative nature of a Tesla’s exteriors is echoed inside. But predictably, there is a radical strategy tucked away in right here, too.

The relatively conservative nature of a Tesla's exteriors is echoed inside. But predictably, there's a radical approach tucked away in here, too.


The whole inside of all Tesla’s is organized round a big central touchscreen that controls virtually all automobile capabilities. It’s even slanted barely towards the driving force for higher viewing.

To be sincere, though it seems spectacular, it is not all the time as useful as what you expertise in automobiles which have retained knobs, switches, and buttons. But it would not matter. What Tesla, Holzhausen, and the corporate’s design workforce — together with Musk — acknowledged is gigantic display screen would reinforce the impression that Tesla’s are about know-how. 

Nobody else within the auto trade has put a display screen this huge in a automobile. You cannot keep away from it once you slip behind the wheel or plop down within the pbadenger seat, so it robotically reinforces Tesla’s branding. 


The Model X was Holzhausen’s second all-original design for Tesla.

The Model X was Holzhausen's second all-original design for Tesla.


But the Model X is one thing of a conundrum.

But the Model X is something of a conundrum.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On one hand, it is an extension of Holzhausen’s design language to the bigger form of an SUV. On the opposite, it is a departure from the effectivity philosophy as a result of though the design is streamlined, the engineering is not. 

Tesla overdid it, by admission, with the Model X. The automobile was delayed for years earlier than launching in 2015, beset with issues: the falcon-wing doorways needed to to redesigned, rear-seat manufacturing was introduced in-house, and the automobile confronted remembers not lengthy after it hit the market.

But the Model X is larger than the sum of its components or flaws. It’s simply probably the most technologically superior automobile at present on the highway, and though Holzhausen did not depart from the Model X template, he confirmed that it was versatile sufficient to work on the 2 most essential genres within the luxurious area.

Holzhausen’s third effort for Tesla was the Model three.

Holzhausen's third effort for Tesla was the Model 3.

Tesla Model three.Timothy Artman/Tesla

The Model three actually is a triumph. The Model S design scaled up superbly for a the Model X, however magnificence would not all the time scale down. Not so with the Model three, which manages to be extra modest than the comparatively huge Model S with out being a squashed-down model of that automobile.

This is the important thing to Holzhausen’s affect. He’s the uncommon skilled who’s creating each a bodily particular piece of commercial design whereas additionally creating an total visible impression, which might be recognized as Tesla model. 

The solely different carmaker that has constantly carried out that is Porsche, constructing on the essential authentic look of the 911 sports activities automobile. Holzhausen’s effectivity strategy is especially evident  on this entrance. If it would not evoke Tesla, he takes it away.


And that taking away extends contained in the Model three.

And that taking away extends inside the Model 3.


Holzhausen makes no bones about it: The Model three’s ultra-minimalist inside — utterly outlined by a horizontal model of the Tesla touchscreen — anticipates a day when vehicles will not want controls for human drivers. 

The Model three’s majestically uncluttered dashboard is probably the most placing influential factor I’ve ever seen in an car. You can take a look at the image, but it surely’s onerous to explain the expertise of getting behind the wheel and seeing completely nothing that you just’re used to.

And then you definitely go forward and drive the automobile and inside seconds, all of it is sensible. What Holzhausen has achieved here’s a three-part consumer interface: lovely exterior, minimalist inside, and North Star for your entire Tesla model.

That Franz von Holzhausen — the unlikeliest superhero to ever take up the duty of designing vehicles.

That Franz von Holzhausen — the unlikeliest superhero to ever take up the task of designing cars.

Getty Images/Jason Merritt/TERM

I’ve in all probability talked to extra automobile designers than anybody else within the automotive career. To a one, they’re spectacular, however Holzhausen is at one other stage.

The loopy factor is that though he had carried out nice work earlier than Tesla, he did not have the appropriate context for his appreciable abilities earlier than he paired up the Tesla. He was prepared to take a danger, and now he is having fun with the outcomes. Tesla has actually endured its ups and downs, however Holzhausen is universally admired for his designs. 

As Tesla continues to maneuver ahead, he’ll be much more admired for his distinctive concepts not nearly what vehicles ought to seem like, however how they need to make our lives higher.

And yet one more factor …

And one more thing ...

Thomson Reuters

Well, even Franz offers in to a bit of car-designer temptation every so often. Sedans and SUVs are high-quality, however typically you wish to create a road-going rocket that may do Zero-60 mph in lower than two seconds. Behold the all-new Tesla Roadster, revealed final Thursday night time.

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