The Year of Model S is here. As we conduct quality testing, refine details and enter production of Model S, we are growing more excited every day to deliver this revolutionary car to our customers. Tesla’s Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen and Vice President of Sales and Ownership Experience George Blankenship discuss how Tesla reimagined the sedan and produced a car with meticulous design and unrivaled driving dynamics.
Q&A with Tesla Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen and Model S Program Director Jerome Guillen
Interest in Model S is running high as it enters the Beta phase of development. We recently put out a call to Tesla owners and fans to ask questions about the car’s design via Twitter, Facebook, and the Tesla Forums. Below, Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen and Model S Program Director Jerome Guillen take on a mash-up of queries about anything and everything design-related – right down to the door handles.
The Model S is the premium sedan evolved. It will raise the bar of vehicle efficiency, meet the highest standards for safety, and provide more cargo space than any other sedan. It will be as beautiful as it is functional. Here's how we will build it. The Model S will be produced at the new Tesla Factory in Fremont, California. Everything from body panel stamping to final quality testing will take place at the Tesla Factory. We will also work to set environmental benchmarks for energy efficiency and emission levels.
The Swiss are known for their timepieces and punctuality, but I was surprised to see so many arrive so early on March 20th at the Muensterplatz in Basel, Switzerland for the first leg of The Odyssey of Pioneers. “We couldn’t wait for the beginning of the Road Rally. We were so excited to meet the other customers and see their Roadsters!” I heard many times.
At Tesla we're proud of our Roadster. "Fergus247" put it best in his comment about our recent video, "Imagine if all car companies loved their products this much. Hell, imagine if everyone producing some kind of product loves it like Tesla loves theirs." It's true. I look forward to driving one of our cars every chance I get, and get a thrill every time I'm behind the wheel. I think everyone who can should be driving a Roadster. It's a feeling all of us share at Tesla. So you could say we're biased. That's where car critics come in.
For a few hours now, I have been sitting in a darkened photography studio, staring at a beautifully lit Model S. I am beginning to realize why it sucks to be a perfectionist. Even after hours and hours poring over and deliberating every millimeter of surface and detail leading to this prototype glowing in front of me, I realize the job is far from done. But the good news for a designer who is never satisfied is that, even after accomplishing so much in such a short time, it’s not quite time to lift the brush.
The world is now very familiar with the Model S show car, which we launched on March 26. But the development process continues as we hone the Model S into a world-class production car – and the best EV on the market. I left Mazda last summer to work at Tesla, attracted to an idea that initially struck me as impossibly ambitious -- and, equally, downright genius. The goal: A mid-sized sedan that seats 7 people and their luggage in a package that is both functional and good looking – actually, better looking than anything on the market. Some SUVs can’t even do that. Especially the good looking part. ;) With such lofty expectations, we needed to start with a clean sheet -- and that’s what we did. In a small, white tent carved out of a corner in the back of a rocket factory in Hawthorne, California – where SpaceX employees seem to accomplish the impossibly ambitious on a daily basis -- we got to work. We immediately began building the design team, which eventually grew to 11 people. We worked grueling hours, fueled by countless take-out dinners, lunches and breakfasts, not to mention ample caffeine and snacks in the SpaceX cafeteria.
If that weren’t challenge enough, last fall we simultaneously developed the Roadster Sport, the first variant of Tesla’s world-class powertrain. Tesla will begin delivering the Roadster Sport to customers starting in late June. We worked nearly up to the moment that the car was revealed to the public. That’s a total of eight months – a timeline that would seem preposterous by the standards of the traditional automotive industry. But one of our biggest assets – aside from our (possibly unhealthy) work ethic – is the simplicity of an all-electric powertrain. Tesla’s industry-leading electric powertrain fundamentally redefined the basic architecture for a sedan, enabling the Model S to become an insanely functional car. We also had the confidence that comes from building a car around a proven powertrain that has already racked up hundreds of thousands of miles in simulated and real-world testing.
Still, one of our biggest challenges was coming up with an overarching design language for a car unlike anything else on the road. The main design theme the Model S communicates is efficiency. “Uncompromised” is the key word I use to describe Model S: environmentally friendly, extremely functional and attractive. It’s a vehicle you are proud to own regardless of what attribute is most important to you, and one where you don’t sacrifice one or more of those attributes for the sake of any other. I set out to develop an efficient, timelessly modern yet classic and international form language, as well as a face for the Tesla brand. As a new brand in a rapidly changing world of brand-savvy consumers, establishing a secure identity is critical. Model S will be the volume base from which we will build the Tesla brand. Tesla’s design is gender-neutral, advanced and unique -- but not strange, futuristic or overly avant-garde. It’s ready-to-wear, not runway haute couture. This is a pretty good sized car, yet it’s agile and looks a bit smaller than a car with such a roomy cabin and cavernous storage capacity. It’s got a lightweight, lean impression, which visually communicates efficiency, especially considering the “range anxiety” of skeptics unfamiliar with Tesla and EVs.
One of the more common misconceptions about the Tesla Roadster is that it is an electrified Lotus Elise. This has been an interesting problem to deal with because the Tesla is vastly different from an Elise and it is important that people are aware of this. In fact, we recently counted how many parts the two cars shared and the total number was under 7% by parts count. If you were to analyze it by parts value, the number would be even smaller.
Stephen Casner spent 25 years working on protocols and systems for transmission of audio and video over packet networks, starting before the Internet existed and continuing through the Internet Multicast Backbone (MBONE). He was recruited to the Silicon Valley to work with startup Precept Software and its IP/TV product, which was later acquired by Cisco. He is currently a Fellow at Packet Design, working on route analytics, and waiting patiently for his Signature One Hundred number to be called.
I’ve been driving production electric vehicles since November, 1998, when I took delivery of a General Motors EV1. I lost that first-generation EV1 when it was recalled in March 2000, but two months later I was able to lease a Gen 2 EV1 with NiMH batteries. GM pried that one out of my fingers when the three-year lease was up. I managed to continue driving electric by leasing a Ford Ranger EV pickup, but again that was only for a year before it was taken back. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to lease or buy one of the last few 2003 Toyota RAV4-EVs. Given the EV1 lease experience, the choice to purchase was obvious!
From the earliest days of our work developing the Tesla Roadster’s body, we realized we had several major challenges on our hands. We had to achieve a low level of aerodynamic drag to increase efficiency, and we had to keep our mass down in order to maintain a high power-to-weight ratio and achieve maximum acceleration. Equally important was our imperative to create a body style for the Tesla Roadster that made people desperately want the car - irrespective of its efficiency or level of performance.
Imagine yourself strapped into a Tesla Roadster speeding down a rough cobblestone path intended to cause so much agitation that the ride stops being fun and starts becoming more like work. It's just a typical day at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA), an engineering and testing facility where we are punishing two of our Tesla Roadster Engineering Prototypes (and several of our engineers as well!).