How important are aerodynamics for Apple Car?

Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 15

Michael Schmidt
Apr 3, 2016 · 3 min read

Let’s assume this is what the basic shape of Apple Car looks like: A square with rounded corners.

How does this perform in aerodynamics?

And how important is an aerodynamic shape after all?

It turns out, automotive aerodynamics are kind of a weird science

Up until today, the industry is constantly re-evaluating what the best measure is to define aerodynamic performance. Only „in 2003, Car and Driver magazine adopted the metric of drag area as a more intuitive way to compare the aerodynamic efficiency of various automobiles.“ (Wikipedia)

German newspaper Die Welt explains in its automobiles column (Google translated) how confusing and actually inexact the measurements are. They open with the sidenote that „a truck is certainly not very good“ at aerodynamics. But why is that?

Trucks, buses, trains are the most actively used transportation systems

But they’re not aerodynamic. Is that a problem?

Let’s look at the performances:

Trucks don’t have a great aerodynamic shape – but still they’re not being redesigned.
Buses have a similar shape, and are used for both urban public transport (low velocity) and interstate travelling (high velocity).
Trains (including subways and undergrounds btw) are the same story, heavily used for public and commercial transportation.

So all of those vehicles perform badly in aerodynamics, but are still in use across the globe for organizations that one would imagine to be interested in maximum efficiency: City departments, logistic companies, public mobility services.

This means that a basic shape is more efficient (to manufacture) than a more expensive aerodynamic design. And it is more effective (in using available space).

Okay, but what does that have to do with Apple Car?

I’ve said before that I believe Apple will introduce one basic mental model of car usage, one that has nothing to do with automotive design up until today. Apple Car may be inspired by its own retail stores, the shape of its Mac mini, the Apple TV, or its AirPort devices.

Combined with a Bose-designed suspension system (to allow friction-free use of e.g. Apple Pencil), Apple may introduce innovation in tyre tech and make the whole car capable of spinning around.

This could help the car save space in urban streets, and give it a more aerodynamic shape on highways.

Die Welt closes with (my paraphrasing and emphasis):

In theory, a drag coefficient of 0.20 for a really usable car has limits of feasibility. One possibility of a significant improvement below this threshold can only occur if one separates from known traditions: So far, a car is mainly an object without moving parts. Aircrafts for instance adjust the flow of air with various moving flaps, something what is so far known in the automotive world at best in the form of extendable rear spoiler. This principle would have to be refined and used much more widely to make further progress.

Sounds about right.

Thoughts on Apple Car

Conceptualizations on the future car, a.o. shared by former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée, Apple/Google/Dropbox designer Ryhan Hassan, Lyft and Snap VC investor Alex Giannikoulis, Wristly founder Bernard Desarnauts, and CaminaLab/Drivania/Shotl founder Gerard Martret.

Michael Schmidt

Written by

Director Consulting at Virtual Identity. I spent a decade on automotive brands in digital, and blog about brand strategy, #ubx and #AppleCar / #ProjectTitan.

Thoughts on Apple Car

Conceptualizations on the future car, a.o. shared by former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée, Apple/Google/Dropbox designer Ryhan Hassan, Lyft and Snap VC investor Alex Giannikoulis, Wristly founder Bernard Desarnauts, and CaminaLab/Drivania/Shotl founder Gerard Martret.