Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen.
Getty Images/Jason Merritt/TERM
  • Telsa's Cybertruck has provoked a polarising reaction to its exotic design.
  • The electric-car company's first pickup truck is radical, but it also signals artistic growth for designer Franz von Holzhausen.
  • Von Holzhausen has created a beautiful and durable design language for Tesla vehicles, but he was falling into an aesthetic rut.
  • The Cybertruck resets the story, and even advances it. For von Holzhausen, it's a breakthrough.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

Prior to the reveal of Tesla's outrageous Cybertruck, the company's head designer was known for elegance and restraint.

Franz von Holzhausen's calling card was that at Tesla he hadn't created wild, futuristic vehicles that evoked spaceships or impossible constructions of curves and contorted lines. The Model S in particular was a subdued masterpiece that's held up fantastically well since its introduction in 2012. It was a perfectly normal-looking all-electric sedan that nonetheless made you want to keep looking at at. It should have been boring, but it wasn't. It was captivating.

Very few car designers have achieved this: Alec Issigonis with the original Mini, Malcolm Sayer and the Jaguar E-Type, Henrik Fisker and the Aston Martin DB9.

When Tesla rolled out its new Roadster a few years ago, you could see von Holzhausen' extending himself but not going crazy.

Likewise the Model Y crossover, which very clearly represented von Holzhausen sticking to the core visual vocabulary that he had made into his own language.

But the Cybertruck - wow! No one expected anything even remotely like it from the dignified Franz. Although the design is controversial, I think it's a wonderful move for Tesla and for von Holzhausen. The brand was running the risk of falling into a rut. In the car business, there's a simple dictum that says it all: "Show them the car."

What that means is that the physical fact and impression of the vehicle is the fundamental. If people don't respond to your design, positively or negatively, then you've failed.

So the Cybertruck is a breakthrough for von Holzhausen. Here's why:


The Model S is the opposite of futuristic. Beyond that, von Holzhausen took advantage of the inherent engineering of electric cars — no gas engine, no drivetrain, no gas tank — to create a sleek sedan that has a very roomy cabin and SUV-like storage.

Tesla

The Model 3 offers more of the same.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The Model Y crossover represents an evolution ...

Tesla Motors/Handout via Reuters

... of von Holzhausen's vocabulary from the Model X.

Tesla

Even the new Roadster makes use of von Holzhausen's familiar styling cues.

Tesla

These designs have been influential in ways that more out-there styles aren't. Von Holzhausen's genius is for beauty that's tied to reality.

Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen.
Getty Images/Jason Merritt/TERM

No one would accuse the Cybertruck of being tied to the reality of pickups.


The RAM 1500, Business Insider's 2019 Car of the Year, is tied to reality.

Crystal Cox/Business Insider

But this is where von Holzhausen has moved the story forward. Nobody thinks about reinventing the pickup because even tentative efforts in that direction, such as ...


... The first-generation Honda Ridgeline have been rejected by the incredibly conservative truck market.

Honda

Everything about the Cybertruck flies in the face of received pickup-truck wisdom. And that's an innovative move, because for von Holzhausen to design a Tesla-fied pickup, using his familiar language, would have been a dud.


Von Holzhausen instead decided to do what he hadn't previously done, and what Tesla had avoided, which was to blow minds rather than hew to middlebrow sensibilities.


And why not? We ask for artists to grow, so when they do, we shouldn't be freaked out by how far they go. They are, after all, THE ARTIST. Trying to control them is foolhardy.

Tesla

In this sense, the Cybertruck is bold and brave. It is the design that everybody is talking about, inside and outside the car business. So for von Holzhausen, it's a personal and professional triumph.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

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