Designer Franz von Holzhausen: Courageous visionary

Designer Franz von Holzhausen
Brave visionary

Franz von Holzhausen and the Mazda Furai

© press-inform – the press office

Franz von Holzhausen is the creative mind behind the appearance of the Teslas. The designer with German ancestors dared a lot when he left the safe lap of the automotive industry in 2008 and joined Elon Musk. The success proves him right.

Franz von Holzhausen is not a man of big words. Unlike his boss Elon Musk, the Tesla chief designer does not seek the light of the public. But the fact that von Holzhausen has been working closely with Musk since 2008 says a lot about Holzhausen’s ability and appreciation. Because the South African wears top employees on the assembly line. Only a few can keep up with the ludicrous pace and the high demands of the company boss or meet them.

But the liaison between Musk and von Holzhausen has lasted for almost a decade and a half. A period of time that is quite unusual even for a designer. Most of the time the creative minds feel constricted at some point, want to realize themselves anew and are looking for a new challenge. With von Holzhausen, this obviously consists of constantly reinventing yourself. With the Model S, he set an example and established the Tesla design language, which was also followed by the Crossover Model X and Model Y as well as the Model 3. But with the triangular-edged Cybertruck and the new Roadster, von Holzhausen is embarking on a new path of shapes.

The story of the eccentric billionaire and the rather quiet designer is closely interwoven with the Tesla logo. Because that does not stand for the name Tesla, but shows the shape of the electric drive. At least that’s how Elon Musk explained it. The fact that the symbol shows a DC motor, but Tesla uses AC drives, is just a minor bon mot. The RO Studios from New Jersey had designed the logo and Elon Musk met Franz von Holzhausen at one of his visitors. The courageous, soon-to-be-car maker and the designer started talking and the South African talked about his grandiose project. Holzhausen did not feel that Mazda was valued enough by his employer at the time, especially his views on sustainability and the environment did not arouse the enthusiasm that Holzhausen wanted from the Japanese car manufacturer.

The charismatic billionaire came in at the right time. Musk convinced von Holzhausen of his idea of ​​building an electric car. What does one mean? A whole range of models. That was entirely to the designer’s taste. He politely said goodbye to Mazda and signed on to Tesla. At a time when established carmakers were still laughing when they were asked about Elon Musk’s plans. Most of the American designer’s colleagues wondered what had happened to Franz, that he was trading a secure job and probably a good career in the automotive industry for the electric castles in the air of an eccentric South African. “Many advised me not to take this job,” remembers Franz von Holzhausen.

After all, the US designer had already made a name for himself in the automotive industry with German ancestors. After completing college at the renowned Syracuse University, where he graduated in transportation design, he immediately joined VW. At the US branch of the German automobile manufacturer, he worked on some groundbreaking prototypes such as the Microbus or the Concept One, which would later become the New Beetle. At General Motors, von Holzhausen was responsible for the appearance of cars such as the Chevrolet SS, the Pontiac Solstice and its brother the Opel GT. The Pontiac was named Car of the Year in the USA in 2006 and also received the “Design of the Year 2006” award. At Mazda, he gave shape to the RX-8, Mazda3 and Mazda5.

At Tesla, the designer was not expecting a chic, light-flooded studio, but a corner in the Space X factory, where Elon Musk’s space fantasies were to become reality. One or the other would have turned on their heels at the sight of these shirt-sleeved working conditions. In this way, von Holzhausen was able to develop his vision of automobile design from scratch. For him, the uncomfortable workplace was something like a blank sheet of paper. As rustic as the environment was, the pressure was immense. If the design of the Model S had not been received, it would have been the end for Tesla. The fact that the whole project had to be completed in less than a year didn’t make things any easier. Franz von Holzhausen delivered. “I just wanted to make a beautiful car. In the end it didn’t matter whether it had a diesel-electric motor,” says the designer.

Unlike Elon Musk, the bathroom in the crowd is not an elixir of life for Holzhausen. However, at the Tesla presentations, which are reminiscent of the Apple events, he is celebrated just as euphorically as the company founder. Franz von Holzhausen is not a festival trumpeter who gives his opinion on every topic. As soon as he expresses himself, his assessments leave nothing to be desired in terms of clarity. He once compared the BMW i3 with an Ikea piece of furniture and for him a unified face, as Audi used for years, would be a no-go. For Franz von Holzhausen, each Tesla stands for itself, the similarities in the shapes can be attributed to the stroke of his pen.


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