Asymcar 20: Iconic Design

I recall details of a recent Tesla Model S test drive while evaluating their innovation on jobs to be done, form factor, design, production methods and their business model.

(Also, other goings on with Uber, BMW and Porsche).

via Asymcar | Learn about the future of the automobile.

  • Fran_Kostella

    Good show, but I wish there had been more focus on the workings of the disruptions of the transportation system by not owning a car. I think it is a great concept, but it isn’t clear that we’re actually getting anywhere with it, so far.

    For example, when I look at Uber and the amount of investment it is taking and the aggressive stance, I don’t see how they survive long term. If their disruption is, as it seems from here, to dismantle taxi regulation and they succeed at this, how do they succeed as an ongoing concern by defending a newly unregulated market with low margins? They seem to be using billions in investment to force open markets that have evolved regulation, but where is the innovation and benefit beyond that? Logistic software itself is not innovative and doesn’t give them a monopoly or unbreachable advantage that I can see. Time scheduling, payments and a database are easily done by any competitor and why would drivers stay loyal if a competing system with a better local image and a better payoff appears? At some point the investments stop and it has to show profits, right?

    Having watched the local taxi industry go through gyrations and continuing crises since the 70s, I don’t see that system as being full of money that can be easily extracted. The only way to take market from taxis seems to be to undercut the taxi system and pay the drivers better. At some point Uber needs to return on investments, and if they raise prices they are vulnerable to the same undercutting, but the next player won’t need the billions of investment that Uber used to break regulations and can therefore do it much cheaper. If I were flush with cash and interested in investing here, I’d wait for them to spend their money forging the path and then be a fast follower who doesn’t incur the cost of breaking open the market, but who spends their cash on undercutting the leader.

    From here the whole taxi/Uber area looks just like the same series of problems that made the local taxi system regulated in the first place, which is an interesting case itself. Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss1 So, I don’t see this as an innovation. I’m more interested in vehicle sharing and ideas like ad hoc bus routing. It seems that there might be plenty of room for innovation here.

  • Chris La Pilusa

    Horace, I’d love to hear more about your actual impressions from driving the car.

    I have to say I disagree with your assessment of the physical design of the Model S. I’d say that the ‘frunk’ still provides a level of functional utility, as it acts as a crumple zone in the case of head-on collision. I also think, with the trepidation surrounding the electric power train, it makes more sense to design a car that will have a level of familiarity with people to drive mainstream acceptance. Drastically changing the form factor of the car would have people more concerned with it’s appearance than performance. The car’s design also goes a long way in it’s phenomenal aerodynamics, which is incredibly important when considering the added weight of the battery.

    I also find merit in their planned pace for the release of the Model III. The additional time to market allows them to intelligently continue building out their charging network and retail presence in preparation of many more vehicles on the road.

  • neutrino23

    Regarding battery consumption, this is fairly well known information. If you charge batteries too quickly or too much and drain them too quickly or too much then the battery life is compromised. My Prius is eight years old. On that device Toyota limits the battery to 80% full and 40% discharged. They also limit the rate of charge or discharge. This is not very satisfying as a user but on the other hand the battery has lasted eight years and more than 100,000 miles.

    From what I know of battery research it is unlikely to see battery capacity grow very much. There is a huge amount of research into charge/discharge rates and lifetimes.

  • BoydWaters

    Tesla Model S bonnet configuration is determined by safety laws, protecting a pedestrian in a front collision. Similar laws have led to car doors that come up to a seated person’s shoulder.

    It’s as if they started with innovation, ran it through a meat-grinder of regulatory reality, and came out with a conventional design.

    A product with a taller profile, like a Lexus 400, may provide more room for design innovation.

    Other more-radical designs have managed to dodge (outmoded? inapplicable?) safety regulations by being classified as motorcycles (for small vehicles) or industrial equipment (insane Hummer-like things).

    Was Tesla required to deliver a “passenger car” by law? Something that an established marque like BMW would already qualify for?

  • GlennC777

    I have to say I was surprised and disappointed by Horace’s, it seems to me, near-disdain for the innovation represented by the Model S. Most of the things Horace wishes Tesla had done might have been interesting experiments, but they would likely have greatly reduced its probability of success to near zero. The decisions Tesla did make have resulted in a car that is astonishingly good from both engineering and design perspectives.

    I would also have been interested to hear much more about the actual driving experience. I have noticed that there is very little discussion of anything approaching an actual enjoyment of driving, or appreciation of dynamics, on any of the Asymcar podcasts I’ve listened to. I suppose that’s not the intent of the show, and the analysis is usually very interesting, but its absence seems particularly stark here, where the car in question is so strikingly different in every aspect of its behavior.

    Tesla made decisions that resulted in a car of extraordinary competence: the Model S has knocked the socks off the entire industry. Consumer Reports’ highest score ever, Motor Trend car of the year, a C/D Ten Best; and these and other accolades come from narrowly focused organizations, each judging based on different considerations and without giving any special credit for its EV nature. Horace treats the car’s powertrain innovations as a mere detail, seemingly wishing it was an altogether different company, but the powertrain is the high-order bit here. It is Tesla’s gravitational center, and I would argue that a successful innovation train leading to (even partial) mass adoption of EVs would be at least an order of magnitude more important than the packaging or process innovation Horace wishes for.

    Of course it remains to be seen how successful Tesla will be long-term, but what they’ve already accomplished is tremendous in an industry so congenitally (and regulatorily) adverse to change. I’m baffled by Horace’s indifference.