The next 100 years of Automotive design
Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 38
No horse, no engine, no driver. What is a carriage, after all?
It carries us and our belongings around. And has been doing so for centuries. Over time, it changed in three major ways — the fourth big change is the one we are going through now.
The first initial design of a carriage was the one that was pulled by a horse. Some sort of box with doors on four wheels (or slides, in Winter). There was a driver’s seat outside of the main compartment, and a room for the passengers to sit in. The driver was looking into the direction of driving, to look over the horses and the road he was going on. The passengers sat facing each other, looking to the left or right to get a glimpse of where they are going by.
The performance metrics of that day are still around, and “horsepower” is one of the first main points on any car’s feature sheet.
However, it occurred that the horse was only the initial accelerator of cars and would eventually be replaced.
Jalopnik had a great story the other day about the origins of the term “chauffeur”. It is used to describe a driver that will drive you in your own car.
When people looked to replace horses with something else that wouldn’t get tired, their first idea was to put in a steam engine – like they did with trains. A steam engine needs to be kept hot („chaud“ in French) and that’s where the term comes from.
The problem was now you needed a heater and a driver.
But it marked the first big redesign of the carriage — with a large engine in the back, and two front-facing seats. Note in the picture that the steering mechanism is very much rooted in the legacy of horse carriages, with two handles: One for pushing the brakes on the wheel, one for changing the direction.
„A Faster Horse“
It is unclear who was first when it comes to the next big change, but it occurred just before the turn of the centuries in the late 1800s.
See again the picture above – the carriage still looked the same, very much in a legacy design based on principles of the previous generation: Large wheels, an exterior driver’s seat, technically there was still room for horses.
The pivot only came with Ford’s production lines – and with them came a design optimized for the needs of the time. Wheels became smaller, all seats went into the interior, the driver was facing the same direction as everybody else (they have to trust the drivers, since they weren’t professionals anymore and anyone was allowed to drive).
Fast forward another 100 years and you find Tesla’s product line – with just another break-through in electric propulsion engines.
The design of their cars, however, is still deeply rooted in the legacy of the past: Cars compete on performance, they sport large wheel alloys, and technically there is still room for a big combustion engine.
Here’s the thing: Even though these cars can already drive on their own, everybody still sits in the car as they did the last 100 years.
„4 wheels, 4 walls“
The next 100 years will be influenced by another fundamental car redesign.
What we’ll keep is four wheels and four walls. But everything else around will change: The driver, the room that’s available, the performance metrics.
I will go out on a limb saying that Apple Car will be the first automobile in hundreds of years not mentioning horsepower in its pitch. Apple Car will compete on experience – maybe not a lot unlike the very first horse carriages which have been incredibly luxurious for the time.
What we can learn from above: The auto industry takes about 100 years to go through major changes, we’re safe to assume it will take another 100 years to change going from now. Good thing every generation lives longer than the one before!