Revisiting the Aerodynamics question

Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 158

Michael Schmidt
May 30 · 4 min read

This blog is mostly about Apple Car’s design, and although we touch on other things like business and technology, I keep coming back to the basic principles of industrial design for mobility.

One of those cornerstones is the question of aerodynamics and what role they really play.

When I started blogging, one of the first articles was about that question:

In it, I made the case that the vehicles most depending on efficiency – trucks and trains – don’t have great aerodynamics.

Digging deeper over the years, there are conflicting theories making rounds. One key statement I found interesting is the following:

With the appropriate time and tools for the job, you can aerodynamically optimize just about any shape.

Another comparison of performance factors came to the conclusion that:

[A]erodynamics is more important for efficiency in electric vehicles.

Both stories reflect the thinking behind legacy car design: That the looks and safety features of a car, plus its aerodynamics, are two sides of the same coin, destined to work together how we’ve known for decades. Auto design after WW2 set the framework that is still being used today – despite being born to look like airplanes. Each century’s Zeitgeist had a major influence on design, obviously.

I make the case that we’re entering a new decade and a new zeitgeist, that will serve as a mental model for future mobility modes to come. They will be born from a framework of constant connectivity, shared ownership, and a user experience focused on everything else but driving. As a consequence, the design of a car will change dramatically. And we have just not seen this with the examples in the aerodynamics reports above. Tesla themselves say that their current design language is not that of the future:

How does a totally different car look like?

If the user experience is not about driving and focussed much more on the interior, the exterior becomes less about features that represent aggressive driving (compare today’s SUVs).

Look at the idea of Friendly Cars, with their soft shell. They understand that their exterior is not about self expression but interaction with the surrounding environment. Terreform has written extensively about their idea:

In the art world, Erwin Wurm dreamt up Fat Car. Since the iPod era, he regularly creates sculptures that play with the decadence of motor vehicles. They too featured a soft surface and a shape breaking with tradition.

So, we’re looking at the possibility to change the appearance of cars altogether, we know that aerodynamics don’t play a role in many commercial vehicles – let’s combine what we know and apply it to Apple Car.

I except Apple Car to be a box design, four equal length sides, with round corners just like the device you currently look at while reading this.

A box isn’t really aerodynamic, but it doesn’t have to be, as most miles will be travelled in cities at low speed. When velocity increases on intercity travel, usually cars need better aerodynamics to be able to travel further with more efficient use of their energy supply. Current cars have the shape they have because of that usage scenario. Also for higher speeds they need to be safer, so the whole thing is designed along the driving direction.

But this will change. Since Apple Car can change direction to any direction during driving, it can switch to a diagonal driving direction, cutting into headwinds like a boat would cut into water.

And on interstate travel, multiple cars would get together to optimise efficiency further:

I have scribbled this concept a few years back.

And it’s how we designed Apple Car since then.

Top view of Apple Car, roof removed.

Thoughts on Apple Car

Conceptualizations on the future car, through the lens of Apple.

Michael Schmidt

Written by

Director Consulting at Virtual Identity. I spent a decade on automotive brands in digital, and blog about #strategy, the #ClimateCrisis, and #AppleCar.

Thoughts on Apple Car

Conceptualizations on the future car, a.o. read by Apple/VW/GM/Continental executives, Apple/Google/Dropbox/Microsoft/Nokia designers, WSJ/CNBC and AI analysts, Lyft/Snap investors, Medium staff writers, academics from HBS/WMG/CIID, and many mobility VCs/CEOs/founders.

Michael Schmidt

Written by

Director Consulting at Virtual Identity. I spent a decade on automotive brands in digital, and blog about #strategy, the #ClimateCrisis, and #AppleCar.

Thoughts on Apple Car

Conceptualizations on the future car, a.o. read by Apple/VW/GM/Continental executives, Apple/Google/Dropbox/Microsoft/Nokia designers, WSJ/CNBC and AI analysts, Lyft/Snap investors, Medium staff writers, academics from HBS/WMG/CIID, and many mobility VCs/CEOs/founders.

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