Elemental.

I’m beginning to narrow my thoughts about creating a car with the input of loved ones, trusted friends, professional advice and some of my own revelations. I’m slowly rediscovering the core elements of what I believe make great cars. 

Just a funny cartoon. I’ve also been accused of having this kind of love.

Core Element #1 : Simplicity.

Simple does not have to mean austere or bland, simple can also mean clean and elegant. There’s a somewhat indescribable beauty in a single function device such as a toggle switch, mechanical parking brake lever or door handle. I believe this philosophy is alive and thriving with industrial design genius found in Apple’s mega successes with the iPhone, iPad and so on. Why should cars be any different? Using the consumer electronics metaphor for comparison, most cars manufactured today are closer in lineage to a Nokia E90 Communicator or Blackberry 8700. Compared to the iPhone, sure these other phones can make calls and have the requisite smart phone functionality but which is more pleasant to hold in the hand?

Thoughts specifically to cars:

  1. Simple, mechanical HVAC systems. What’s wrong with a cable connected to a water valve…it’s cheap, effective and functional.
  2. Hide or cleverly disguise the Bluetooth, Nav and all the other “Infotainment” features. If I had it my way, there’d be almost none of that to begin with…it only distracts you from enjoying what you should be doing (driving).
  3. Analog gauges. Dials are beautiful and can tell a story in a glance.
  4. Simple drivetrain and a manual transmission. Call me old fashioned, but I believe selecting a gear should be part of the experience.

Core Element #2 : Soul.

It’s decidedly much more difficult to articulate the character, personality or soul of a car.  I believe driving dynamics is where it all begins. The soul is a complicated combination of the vehicle handling in combination with the sensory feedback from the overall “feeling” you get from the sights, sounds, smells and aesthetics. Perception is everything. In my opinion, a car with soul will compel you to glance back at the car when you are walking away from a drive or for no particular reason you find yourself peeking in the garage to see it one more time before you go to bed. These emotions and experience can often be found when buying something new and should not be confused with a car that truly moves you. Some will argue that “feel” and “sensory” measurements are only for purists who are hell-bent on hard suspension sports cars. To some degree, that may be true, at least for me. A smooth ride is one thing, but to be 100% isolated from the outdoors or any sense of the way the car is actually connected to the earth…well, in that case I might as well take a train and let someone else do the driving.

Safe and efficient does not always have to equate to boring. A drive should leave you wanting more. To seek out parking garages just so you can hear that exhaust note one more time. To intentionally take the long way home for the sheer joy of cruising past farm houses and picket fences. To open the windows or drop the top just for the wind in your hair and relative escape from the mundane. Driving can and should be fun, that should be the impetus for all automotive efforts.

Core Element #3 : Elegant Execution.

Likely the most challenging aspect of creating desirable automobiles is the development of a final product. In the current economic, regulatory and litigious climate, it’s a near impossibility to invest the level of care, detail and quality required to build truly elegant products…especially cars. While that may be an obstacle, I look to the success of Apple and others and realize that all things are possible. Sure, it takes lots of capital investment, but I honestly believe that a team of absolutely dedicated, passionate and driven enthusiasts CAN and WILL eventually bring the same revolution to the automotive sector as we’ve seen in consumer electronics. Tesla is leading the way with the proficiency and technical execution, not unlike what we see in previous electronic giants such as Sony. I’m not saying that Tesla is completely without aesthetic or character, but their end game is not focused on driver experience, not unlike Sony’s emphasis on efficiency and technical prowess. Contrast Sony with Apple and you start understand what I’m hoping to illustrate. Apple has completely dominated the EXPERIENCE market of consumer electronics…and it has been by all accounts a very successful strategy. Their secret sauce is not that tough to understand, they built the perception (or reality) of an elegantly manufactured device into the overall experience.

The formula is relatively simple.

  • Define the User Experience (first)
  • + Design built on the Experience
  • + Attention to Detailed Simplicity (remove everything that takes away from the User Experience)
  • = Elegant Execution.

I want to build a car (and company) with this formula.

Leave a Reply