Von Holzhausen

Automobile - - Design Of The Year -

WE TALKED WITH Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s chief de­signer, about the Model 3, his third Tesla car, and briefly about the Tesla truck and the new Road­ster II—a sur­prise dur­ing the truck un­veil­ing late last year. Von Holzhausen, a born Amer­i­can de­spite his Teu­tonic-sound­ing name, has deep in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing cre­ated the Pon­tiac Sol­stice and head­ing Mazda de­sign in Cal­i­for­nia be­fore be­ing head­hunted by Musk for Tesla. He is fa­mil­iar with his com­pany’s prod­ucts, own­ing one of each model. “My kids love the Model X, es­pe­cially the fal­con-wing doors,” he says. “They’re 5 and 3 years old and think it’s fun.”

What was the de­sign brief for the Model 3?

FVH: It was es­sen­tially cus­tomer-driven. They saw the Model S as a great car, but there was a de­sire for some­thing 10 to 20 per­cent smaller, BMW 3 Se­ries or Audi A4 size. We thought the $35,000 price point would work. We wanted five seats, more in­te­rior space, and to keep the fast­back sil­hou­ette.

What was the time­line on the project?

FVH: From ini­tial sketches to pro­duc­tion launch was about two years. We made three pro­to­types, two of them op­er­at­ing ve­hi­cles. Once the mis­sion was de­fined, our or­ders were to hurry.

But you were late in terms of the an­nounced dates.

FVH: We’re ac­tu­ally pretty close to the dates ini­tially an­nounced.

What’s par­tic­u­larly spe­cial about the Model 3?

FVH: To keep the fast­back pro­file, we elim­i­nated the lift­gate and used a nor­mal trun­k­lid. To keep a faster pro­file, we moved the struc­ture ahead, to make sure the [head im­pact cri­te­ria] were all met. The big back­light is some­thing we had ex­pe­ri­ence with on the Model X wind­shield.

What else did you bring for­ward from the S and X?

FVH: For in­stance, we knew that flush door han­dles were im­por­tant, but we sim­pli­fied the mech­a­nism, so they are not as costly. We kept good aero­dy­nam­ics for range as well as to make the car sporty. Not silli­ness, just clean and sporty.

The $35,000 price point is ex­cit­ing, but your own car you let us drive is more like $55,000.

FVH: Yes, with the pre­mium in­te­rior pack­age and 15-speaker au­dio sys­tem, 19-inch wheels, and other op­tions, the price is higher, but the base cars will be re­ally nice with­out any op­tions.

When did you de­cide to to­tally elim­i­nate the grille and front trim?

FVH: That was a long time com­ing. We made the early cars less dis­tinct from ri­vals but slowly came to this solution of how to keep a pre­mium sports feel friend­lier and hap­pier than the lux­ury S. We changed that car, too, mod­i­fy­ing 200 to 300 parts when the S was restyled with­out the painted “shield.” AM

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