Lower the roof

Monday, April 22nd, 2024

Elon Musk by Walter IsaacsonDesigning the Model S, Walter Isaacson explains (in his biography of Elon), presented new challenges:

“In a sports car, the lines and proportions are like that of a supermodel, and it’s relatively easy to make that good looking,” he says. “But the proportions of a sedan are harder to make pleasing.”

Tesla had originally contracted with Henrik Fisker, a Danish-born designer in Southern California who had produced the sensuous styling of the BMW Z8 and the Aston Martin DB9. Musk was not impressed with his ideas. The car “looks like a fucking egg on wheels,” he said of one of Fisker’s sketches. “Lower the roof.”

Fisker tried to explain the problem to Musk. Because the battery pack would raise the floor of the car, the roof needed to bulge in order to provide enough headroom. Fisker went to a whiteboard and sketched the Aston Martin design that Musk liked. It was low and wide. But the Model S could not have the same sleek proportions because of its battery location. “Imagine you’re at a fashion show with Giorgio Armani,” Fisker explained. “A model who is six feet tall and weighs a hundred pounds comes in wearing a dress. You’re with your wife and she is five feet tall and weighs a hundred fifty pounds, and you say to Armani, ‘Make that dress for my wife.’ It won’t look the same.”

Musk ordered dozens of changes, including to the shape of the headlights and the lines of the hood. Fisker, who considered himself an artist, told Musk why he didn’t want to make some of them. “I don’t care what you want,” Musk replied at one point. “I’m ordering you to do these things.” Fisker recalls Musk’s chaotic intensity with a tone of weary amusement. “I’m not really a Musk type of guy,” he says. “I’m pretty laid back.” After nine months, Musk canceled his contract.


“We spent a lot of time shaving millimeters from the battery pack so that we could ensure that you had enough headroom without making it a bubble car,” Musk says.


They engineered it so that the pack became an element of the car’s structure.


“At other places I worked,” von Holzhausen says, “there was this throw-it-over-the-fence mentality, where a designer would have an idea and then send it to an engineer, who sat in a different building or in a different country.” Musk put the engineers and designers in the same room. “The vision was that we would create designers who thought like engineers and engineers who thought like designers,” von Holzhausen says.


“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer,” Jobs once explained. “Nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers.”


  1. Jim says:

    Design really is everything.

Leave a Reply