EP13 - CyberWTF?! - What the new Tesla says about the state of design, and humanity.

Back in 2019, Drew and Joe disagreed on what the Tesla Cybertruck represented. Has anything changed in the past four years?

In this episode, Drew and Joe take a look at what the most polarising car in living memory means as a piece of technology, as a piece of design, and as a cultural artefact.

That’s it for this episode! Thanks for listening.

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Click Read more’ for the transcript


Note: This transcript is machine-generated and may contain some errors.

[00:00:00] Drew Smith: Have a feeling that, okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that crisis of masculinity issue is going to be affecting a lot of car designers as well, because they’re looking, they’re looking the thing that they came into the industry to do being attacked by woke forces. You know, the transition to EVs, there’s all sorts of stuff in there that I think they’re probably thinking, Well, I came here to design, like, fucking cool shit. And now everything is being whittled down

[00:00:33] ​


[00:00:33] Joe Simpson: Hello, I’m Joe Simpson.

[00:00:36] Drew Smith: I’m Drew Smith

[00:00:37] Joe Simpson: And welcome to looking out the podcast, auditory sidekick to the newsletter in which we connect the dots across mobility, design and culture.

[00:00:46] Drew Smith: And coming up in this show, episode 13, we’re going to talk about a car you almost certainly will not have heard anything about.

[00:00:55] Joe Simpson: What?

[00:00:55] Drew Smith: I can absolutely guarantee Joe that nobody will have spent the last week or so at content about this vehicle. Absolutely guarantee it.

[00:01:04] Joe Simpson: Are you sure? Are you sure about that?

[00:01:08] Drew Smith: Of course not, Joe. Everybody’s been absolutely frickin obsessed with the goddamn Cybertruck. And

[00:01:14] Joe Simpson: So I’m going to join in

[00:01:14] Was

[00:01:23] Drew Smith: Wow, the interview with Sandy Munro that I was waiting for. Um,we thought that it was

[00:01:30] Joe Simpson: it as expected? Was it as you expected that, Drew?

[00:01:34] Drew Smith: Not at all, Not at all. Um, it was surprising, but for all the wrong reasons.

[00:01:40] Joe Simpson: Wrong

[00:01:41] Drew Smith: We figured that it was time to dive in and talk about a topic that we just know, uh, that you’re already going to have an opinion on. So why not add another couple?

[00:01:52] Joe Simpson: And speaking of opinions, uh, we thought that we’d start where we left off.

[00:01:59] Um, so almost four years ago to the day that we’re recording this, the Tesla prototype had first appeared. Um, and Drew and I actually for once had wildly different takes. I am not going to be quite so narcissistic as to read you exactly what we wrote back then. Um, although if you want to read that and you weren’t signed up to the newsletter back in 2019, um, you can go back and read it. Um, I think it was something uh, issue number nine. Um, we’ll put a link in the, uh, in the show notes. But, yeah, it was an occasion where we didn’t really see eye, to eye, right, Drew?

[00:02:36] Drew Smith: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:02:37] To me, the Cybertruck spoke of a future so anti- human that one could very easily think of its arrival as heralding the end of days.

[00:02:48] It had this really troubling cultural meaning for me, that cold rolled, hard edged, stainless steel suggested that it was all the more easy to wipe clean the people that you had mown down in your path, and it was a vision of a future that was far too apocalyptic for my liking.

[00:03:08] Joe Simpson: Uh, whereas I, uh, I attempted a bit of a defense of it.

[00:03:12] Because I think my view was that car design will ultimately move forward in one of two ways. Um, it would either be by rethinking the entire value proposition of the car for the user, um, and how that moves them, both like literally down the road and also metaphorically.

[00:03:29] Um, or by rethinking, you know, how the vehicle is actually put together, manufactured, the technology,um, and fundamentally questioning mass production and the entire sort of vertically integrated car production system. I applauded the Cybertruck for really doing just that and giving the industry a shot in the arm and moving it forward.

[00:03:54] So Drew, four years on, any change in how you feel about this?

The Cybertruck is the new W140 Mercedes

[00:03:58] Drew Smith: it’s fascinating and I can’t think of a time living memory where, certainly where a piece of automotive design has been synchronized with so contentious, except, and there’ll be no surprises that I bring this example up, Probably the W140, know, like the W140, which caused protests at the Mercedes factory, because it was considered an affront to the green movement at that point in time.

[00:04:26] Joe Simpson: That’s really interesting, because I hadn’t actually considered that context, but of course it did.

[00:04:30] I don’t, I don’t think it’s quite the same because I think we still have a level of consumption, weight, complexity, technical tour de force, which is sort of represented perhaps by gargantuan SUVs.

[00:04:44] I feel like that’s more of the sort of, the analogy to

[00:04:50] Drew Smith: The 140.

[00:04:52] Joe Simpson: than Cybertruck. Yeah.

[00:04:57] Drew Smith: the, the sheer, how do I say this word, prof… profligacy of of, of the 140 in its time ran so counter to the prevailing sort of economic an environmental narrative. And I guess that’s sort of where I’m drawing parallel

[00:05:17] Joe Simpson: Yeah, yeah, yeah,

[00:05:18] Drew Smith: Whereas, so, so that was, that was kind of the flashpoint then it was okay: the economic miracle of the 1980s, um, and particularly in Japan has just blown up spectacularly, which would spark a crisis across Asia, you know, in the years that would follow, um, People were finally turning on to the, what we now call the climate crisis. And they were two cultural flashpoints.

[00:05:44] I think the cultural flashpoints that we’re facing into now are, are, you’re right, they are very different. In both cases, these vehicles are sort of lightning

[00:05:56] Joe Simpson: Yeah, I, I kind of find the most unfunny part of it that Elon’s kind of articulating…

[00:06:03] How, would you say, do you say Elon or Elon? How do you say it? Yeah, I think, yeah, I mean. I might call him Elon just to be deliberately obtuse and Northern.

[00:06:13] But I think there’s something about the fact that he’s almost, I feel, toying with society and I can’t decide whether he’s reveling in the sort of power move that comes from punking people with this and it being suggestive of what’s to come in terms of the utter polarization and lack of affordance that society is kind of going towards.

[00:06:43] And at a greater extreme, as he seems to spitball at the end of the Sandy Munro, some kind of like, uh, apocalyptic event which will quote unquote sort things out.

[00:06:56] That, to, to take part in that you need your, um, you know, Either you kind of, you know, you want to be in a Cybertruck with its biodefense and bulletproof and, you know, everything else it represents or you, you know, will be overlorded and taken over and crushed, perhaps, by the

[00:07:17] Drew Smith: Yeah, I mean, he was quite clear at the launch, He said, at Tesla we have the finest in apocalypse technology.

[00:07:26] He said, if you’re ever in an argument with another car, you will win.

[00:07:30] And that suggests that there’s a worldview here that is very much win or lose.

[00:07:38] Joe Simpson: Yes.

[00:07:39] Drew Smith: And if you believe in, in, in self-fulfilling prophecies, the prophecy that Musk seems to be bringing with his messiah complex is that of an apocalypse.

[00:07:52] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:07:53] Drew Smith: And I find it absolutely fascinating the extent to which he has been able to corral people.

[00:08:04] Joe Simpson: yeah.

[00:08:05] Drew Smith: Around that world view and

[00:08:09] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

Cybertruck and the crisis of masculinity

[00:08:09] Drew Smith: That suggests that the problem is actually much broader than Musk himself. It’s much broader than, than Musk and his, his acolytes.

[00:08:17] And, you know, if we, if we zoom right out, there’s been this sort of emergent narrative over the past few years of, of, of a crisis of masculinity.

[00:08:27] Joe Simpson: yeah.

[00:08:27] Drew Smith: And in the United States, whether you look at education, whether you look at access to the labor market, whether you look at addiction and suicide, men are doing incredibly poorly. and at its most extreme, you have movements like the incel movement, like the, the involuntary celibates.

[00:08:50] And if you look at the types of people, the types of, tribes, that tend to orient themselves around Musk, the incels are a, are a significant contingent there.

[00:09:03] And, to my mind, this vehicle is a representation, it’s a physical manifestation of that crisis of masculinity. Because it is here to say, either conquer or be conquered. crush or be crushed. And that, me, is a a really sad indictment of where we are.

[00:09:23] Joe Simpson: I feel like Musk is like the pied piper to a movement and a group of people and as you say, I don’t think you can lay the blame singularly at his door, it’s

[00:09:32] Drew Smith: you No, he’s taking advantage

[00:09:34] Joe Simpson: It’s, it’s, yes, exactly, that’s what, to my kind of point about punking, it’s like, it’s almost I feel like Musk is and there’s part of me with the Cybertruck that thinks, enjoying wondering how almost like ridiculous and how amped he can take this and the Cybertruck is the sort of ultimate expression of this slightly frankly from my perspective bonkers worldview and he knows there’ll be enough people who are like I am 100 percent here for that

What happens when you crash a cybertruck?

[00:10:07] Joe Simpson: I think there’s another part of it, which I find slightly bizarre in the world of vehicles because, I take my own organization, you’re designing large, quite ultimately heavy cars to fundamentally protect the people who are in them in the event that the worst happens, right?

[00:10:29] However, there’s a massive amount of work, and I would say the majority of the work goes on, which says, so what happens when it interacts with another thing? Be that. a person, a bicycle, some piece of stationary scenery, but also importantly another car. And usually with a person or a bicycle, the first thing you’re trying to do is stop it doing that.

[00:10:53] So you’re putting technology on it, which stops it doing that and trying to help the driver, which is why, many other OEMs are investing in a level of redundancy in terms of the sensor set that Tesla is not.

[00:11:05] And then secondarily, that a lot of the work we do is about vehicle to vehicle interaction. And so we might be a heavier, larger vehicle, but how do we help the other vehicle?

[00:11:20] Drew Smith: Totally.

[00:11:21] Joe Simpson: Now, what I see in the Cybertruck, in the way it’s built, and in the small amount of moving image I’ve seen from the crash test, is almost the opposite. The thing looks so stiff that it’s literally if you’re going to interact with another vehicle, it’s just going to batter the other vehicle and destroy it.

[00:11:40] But conversely, I’m not, I’m sure they’ve managed to get it to pass, crash tests. But it looks so stiff that I’m like, the deformation and the way it behaves makes me go, ooh, I’m not sure I’d really want to be in that in certain interactions.

[00:11:57] Sure, the car slams in to the side of you, it looks like Tesla can put another couple of door skins on and you’re good to go, which is incredible.

[00:12:04] But, 60 70 km an hour small overlap front thing with a barrier or a tree. It looks like you’re going to have an awful lot of force that’s, going into a very stiff structure that’s going to stop very quickly.

[00:12:15] Drew Smith: Yeah, and I think that harks back to the thing that we talked about in the introduction and that piece that I wrote back in 2019 which was around, curvature sort of begets a sense of conformity, or should I say the ability to conform. In a sense to receive if you do wind up in an accident. and that in itself is very anti- masculine kind of concept.

[00:12:44] Joe Simpson: Totally, and

[00:12:45] Drew Smith: you think

[00:12:45] about it, this is about repelling

[00:12:48] and crushing.

[00:12:49] Joe Simpson: Yeah. It’s not about Receive and gently move out the way as a gesture. It’s about to smash it down

[00:12:58] and I

[00:13:02] Drew Smith: the New Yorker conference. Go fuck yourself. Go fuck yourself.

[00:13:08] G F Y.

[00:13:10] Joe Simpson: it’s a metaphorical, like automotive,

Cybertruck as technological masterpiece

[00:13:15] Joe Simpson: you know,

[00:13:15] Drew Smith: and, and, he, he’s, he’s the thing that really, this is the thing that confounds me.

[00:13:21] Now, I will be the first person to admit that back in 2019, when I first saw this thing, I had the most visceral and allergic reaction to it. Because my first read, and I think it was a reasonable one, given, Tesla’s historical failure to deliver on many of its promises, was this is nothing more than a punk, this is nothing more

[00:13:45] Joe Simpson: you didn’t believe it was real.

[00:13:47] Drew Smith: this is nothing more than a meme, ergo, why pay any attention to what’s going on under the skin.

[00:13:53] Now, of course, what we saw at the launch event, is that there is an absolutely incredible level of innovation that is embodied in this thing.

[00:14:04] Now, if you took just the extent of the use of gigacasting, or if you just took the use of Ethernet, or you just took 48

[00:14:15] volt

[00:14:15] Joe Simpson: cabin architecture, yeah.

[00:14:16] Drew Smith: or you just took the fact that, the interior is now starting to be pre assembled on top of the battery pack so it can be lifted up into the base of the chassis. If you took any one of those innovations, oh, and I forgot steer by wire. If you took any one of those innovations, sing singly people in Detroit, Munich, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, would just be like, Oh shit. You put all, what was it? Four or five of them together and embody them in one single vehicle.

[00:14:44] And you’re just like, Oh,

[00:14:46] Joe Simpson: Holy f

[00:14:47] Drew Smith: this is quite a lot

[00:14:49] Joe Simpson: And this is where my entire conflict with Cybertruck comes in, where I was like On one hand, I really, I still stand by what I wrote at the end of my piece in 2019, which is essentially to sum up, it’s it’s not for me, and I don’t love it, and I would go as far as to say I hate what it represents from a sort of cultural and future perspective.

[00:15:14] But I absolutely applaud it, and and respect it for what it does and brings technically and Musk and Tesla’s continued ability to do things in the auto industry and for the auto industry which will ultimately move the game on and which we all know other brands have been looking at and fundamentally gone nah it’s too hard.

[00:15:40] Like just that 48 volt architecture in the cabin, the way when you understand that Every single interface point, every single component, every part of the supply chain is designed to run on the 12 volt system has to be redesigned to interface with that and run on 48 volts.

[00:16:00] That, that in itself is a complete mindfuck. We know that brands have been doing it and just been going, no, it’s too hard. And I think this is why, Tesla’s down as any, it’s like we did it to every single CEO of an automotive firm, because sure to God, he’s really keen for everyone else to do it because they’ve done it and it’s amazing, but they’re a bit out on their own in the supply chain, and it will benefit everybody to move to that.

[00:16:23] Drew Smith: for anybody who’s struggling to understand what this might actually mean in practical terms, the figure that I saw bandied about, I think it was actually in the Sandy Monroe interview, was that it strips about 70 percent of the weight of the wiring loom out of the vehicle because you can use thinner gauge wire because you haven’t got the same problems with resistance and heat buildup.

[00:16:44] Yeah. Right.

[00:16:47] Joe Simpson: in combination, I think with the, with the Ethernet, you just have much less wiring harness pull per se, because you don’t have to have many wires where individual things are talking to other things, which is necessitated today by the fact that we’re running on a very slow CAN bus system, or we have these kind of wires, which have a lot of resistance. They get very hot. So the, just some of the kind of environmental impact of that. It was looking, at the Beast version and the rear motors, they don’t contain any rare earth elements in the motors.

[00:17:24] yeah, just just on its own, it’s I think the front motor is a standard kind of,

[00:17:29] standard, but a kind of traditional sort of electric, motor. But yeah, there’s some kind of really big, impressive environmental, benefits, I would say, and impacts that come from this. and that’s really difficult to square against the, , I guess what it says as a statement.

Cybertruck as an avatar

[00:17:47] Joe Simpson: And I think this is where. For so many people working in the industry they know this and I think implicitly people who are interested in cars and most people buy cars know it’s like cars are, our favourite person again, avatars. They communicate who you want to be, their personalities, their, their, the average person sees more cars in a day than trees. They have a huge visual impact on our cities, our world, how we feel, who we are, how we see ourselves, how we feel about ourselves.

[00:18:18] And I worry a bit about people in Cybertrucks.

[00:18:21] Drew Smith: This was my first thought this morning when my cat woke me up at quarter to five, was Chris Bangle. I mean, it’s slightly disturbing that I wake up at quarter to five in the morning and my first thought is of Chris Bangle. Hi, Chris, if you’re listening. close to my heart, clearly.

[00:18:36] but it was very much this idea of if our cars represent who we want to be and how we see ourselves in the world, what kind of person sees themself in the Cybertruck?

[00:18:50] And there was some, there was a poll released, I think it was yesterday, we’ll post a link in the show notes. the methodology is not particularly clear, so it may be, worth even less than the pixels it was communicated with.

[00:19:06] But that poll said that out of everybody that was surveyed, six, I think it was 63 or 65 percent of people said that they would not buy a Cybertruck. Um, and that was on the basis of either price or design. and the fact that, that design was a reason for rejecting it, I think is really interesting.

[00:19:25] And I’m just gonna say, my personal hope is that this thing will date, like, A stale fart. That it’s, it’s, it’s aesthetic is so extreme and so novel. and so born of a production method that I think pretty much every other manufacturer in the world would say. You know what? Cold rolled, hard stainless steel is just not for us. that the aesthetic lives and dies.

[00:20:03] fairly rapidly.

[00:20:04] I think there’s a few interesting things to think about with that. I there’s two sides.

[00:20:10] Joe Simpson: I can totally see how it’s so polarising that so many people will be put off by it. I don’t think Tesla care. I think they know there’s enough of a minority. And people are just like, want something different, have lots of money, want the best thing that they’ll just like, they’ll be able to, at least for the next few years, shift as many as they can make.

[00:20:33] And I think when you listen to Musk in that Sandy Munro interview, it’s quite clear that It’s not a make or break of the company.

[00:20:41] It’s them almost like, I want to say like messing around, but they’re like, they don’t need it to be mass.

[00:20:48] Drew Smith: it’s a trinket.

[00:20:49] Joe Simpson: Model 3 or Model Y

[00:20:51] Drew Smith: It’s a, it’s a

[00:20:51] Joe Simpson: but

[00:20:52] Drew Smith: It’s

[00:20:52] Joe Simpson: do think there’s another side, which is actually quite interesting. So we haven’t talked about this yet, but there’s this context of how good of a pickup truck is it?

Schrodinger’s pick-up

[00:21:03] Joe Simpson: And I think it’s not actually a pickup truck. And it won’t be bought by the typical person who buys an F 150 or a Silverado. However, but

[00:21:13] Drew Smith: Course not.

[00:21:14] Joe Simpson: Think about as a small business in the US and a small business person who maybe, how should we say, maybe identifies with some of the, political and we’re going to the dog as apocalyptic sort of views that Musk has.

[00:21:31] Has a bit of money, has their own sort of sole trader organisation, and can put one of these things through on a, a massive kind of tax offset and all the things you get in the US.

[00:21:43] Drew Smith: Sure.

[00:21:44] Joe Simpson: an amazing statement of who you are and a statement for your business and a talking point for clients. And so you’ve got a small kind of doing, I don’t know, cleaning windows or doing trade repairs and things like that.

[00:21:58] It’s a thing that people are going to want to talk to you about. And then you’d be like, oh, that’s the guy that does the, joinery repair with the Cybertruck. And I think that’s quite interesting because then it drives a kind of potential business logic to actually having one to some people and I think we’ll see that. I think we’ll see that.

[00:22:18] I do agree with you on the whole looking dated thing.

[00:22:20] Do you remember, Boloré blue car and the Paris, what was it called? The

[00:22:28] Drew Smith: Oh, the ones that ended up being used as urinals.

[00:22:31] yeah, it was metal. Yep.

[00:22:33] Joe Simpson: I know this is not that and it’s a different metal, I think you know what, I think we, I, I

[00:22:38] Drew Smith: as a urinal?

[00:22:39] Joe Simpson: think you know what I’m saying.

[00:22:42] Just saying it might look a bit shonky after a while, I think for one thing, and it might look, I agree with you totally on the, it might look old very quickly, so this idea of it being future looking like the future. I admire them going something so different, but no, sorry, it’s not my future.

[00:23:00] Drew Smith: Look, I misread, Cybertruck initially as a, as a truck, as an F 150 Lightning competitor. Um, and a very, very spirited conversation with Michael Banovsky who’s a good friend of Looking Out, um, disavowed me of, of that notion and, and, and I think this idea of it sort of being a, a, a trinket or being a toy in terms of its aesthetic, in terms of Um, terms of it being a kind of halo car for worldview and, um, particular take on where we are at this point in time culture.

The Cybertruck as an Escalade replacement (and why people really buy Teslas)

[00:23:50] Joe Simpson: I suspect it will actually take lots of sales from say something like an Escalade.

[00:23:56] I imagine that like, it’s like, the Escalade is almost like this kind of cultural signifier of a certain sort of

[00:24:04] type.

[00:24:05] If you interview Tesla owners, what they don’t tell you directly, but they say between the lines, is I basically bought it because it does a load of cool shit that I can’t get anywhere else.

[00:24:20] There’s a quality with any Tesla where it’s like, it has this of, I mean, if you look at Model 3 and Model Y, they have this amazingly kind of unassuming, nothing, bland, acceptability to the aesthetic design.

[00:24:35] Drew Smith: Yeah, so the

[00:24:36] Joe Simpson: But then

[00:24:37] Drew Smith: the social cost, If you like the, the, in terms of how you represent yourself in the world is very, very low.

[00:24:45] Joe Simpson: Yeah, totally.

[00:24:47] But, then you get to your, I think to your closer crowd or tribe, you get this social value where it’s A, signifying something, Tesla equals, or has until recently I think perhaps equaled, I’m a relatively early adopter, I’m quite progressive, electric cars. Relatively smart. It’s like, I might work in tech, or, you know, I’m, I’m kind of fellow techie. The sort of stuff that people are kind of comfortable with being associated with.

[00:25:15] I think the big thing about jumping the shark right now is a lot of the stuff that Musk’s saying and doing is making a lot of people be like, whoa,

[00:25:23] no,

[00:25:24] Drew Smith: this something that I want to

[00:25:25] Joe Simpson: with that. Yeah, exactly. I mean, that would be what would totally stop me now. But there’s a, there’s a second point, which is that. All this sort of stuff of, it does actually deliver a lot of value, in terms of, the supercharger network is like, it saves time, it saves money, it saves hassle. What the screen can do, the the, the, even the frickin fart cushion and stuff like that.

[00:25:50] There’s stuff that, your kids will like showing off to their friends it’s kind of like funny and when you speak to people what they’re really saying is like, I actually quite enjoy all this shit that I can get and that it does which is actually quite humorous or I can show other people all my kids love or that maybe makes my life a little bit easier actually.

[00:26:07] Drew Smith: Well,

[00:26:08] I think, I

[00:26:08] Joe Simpson: that I can’t get anywhere else. I can’t get with anybody else.

[00:26:12] Drew Smith: is something that Tesla has allowed people to do very, very well, which is acrue, a kind of social capital,

[00:26:19] Joe Simpson: Yeah,

[00:26:20] Drew Smith: right? Um, very much like the Prius allowed people to accrue social capital. They, they, they yeah, like they were, you know, like rosary beads for rich people. Um, and they have you know, if we were to apply Raymond Loewy’s most advanced yet acceptable paradigmto Tesla design they’ve played an extremely smart game. There is literally nothing polarizing about a Model S, a Model Y, or a Model 3. I mean apart from the slightly dumpy proportions of the Model Y, right?

[00:27:03] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:27:04] Drew Smith: And that,that to my mind, from a design point of view, has been absolutely critical to the success of Tesla.

[00:27:13] It’s you to buy into a, a more environmentally sustainable vision of the future. Um, and a, a a future, which is um, far more and yes, fun as a result of, you know, the, the, the sophistication of, the software in the vehicles, but you haven’t had to pay a big price for that in terms of how you show up in the world and Cybertruck changes.

[00:27:44] Joe Simpson: That.

[00:27:45] Drew Smith: It, it, forces you to make a commitment to an aesthetic and, and as we’ve discussed, like the ideology inherent in that aesthetic in order to access the benefits of that vehicle.

[00:27:59] And so, and this is where the polarization comes from. It kind of puts youbetween a rock and a hard place. It’s like, well, yeah, I’d really love to have four wheel drive by wire steering. I’m really sort of engaged and and my my geek sense is turned on by the idea of Ethernet and 48 volt architecture, if that’s the kind of person that you are, but I don’t want it to look like that.

The three reads of the Cybertruck

[00:28:24] Drew Smith: And I think this is the critical thing with this car. Is that we have to read it on two different levels.

[00:28:31] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:28:31] Drew Smith: Actually there’s three different levels. there’s what it represents in terms of, a piece of technology and how it advances the game in the automotive industry. And on that front there’s no question that this thing is remarkable in terms of its it’s ambition so there’s cyber truck as a piece of technology unmitigated success, I would argue.

[00:28:55] Cybertruck as designed object, where, I think we’re both in agreement that as a, as an aesthetic. It probably hasn’t got terribly long legs. Part of that is down to how it’s made, which is,it, the technology which is used to form the body panels. I struggled to see other manufacturers going down that path simply for the reason that if you want to sell a car out of cold rolled stainless steel globally. that’s going to be a tough job because getting that kind of material to pass, in

[00:29:31] Joe Simpson: That was what I was about to say. I think it’s, I’ll be very curious to see if we get any copycats. I can’t see it coming from the European brands. but I also would be very surprised in a way to see the Cybertruck in Europe. and I can’t see with the current design how they would get it to pass some of the pedestrian regulations, particularly.

[00:29:55] Drew Smith: So if we come back toour little framework, we’ve got Cybertruck as technology, Cybertruck as aesthetic, and then there’s Cybertruck as as cultural object.

[00:30:06] And I think this is the one where viewed within the broader context of Musk’s worldview and Musk’s behavior and the behavior of the people that he pulls around him. to all of those people, this conversation is going to be an absolute joke. but for people like you and I, who I know argue for a more humane, and equitable futureI just can’t, I can’t look at this thing and say, yeah, okay. Like I’m, I’m, I’m cool with this.

[00:30:42] Joe Simpson: No, I neither can I, but then I suppose we tend to think in fairly similar ways around culture and the future.

[00:30:52] What I am quite curious about is, and I don’t think we’ll ever find out, although, Ian, if you’re listening, watching, and you’re able to come on the show, then we’d love to talk to you.

How does the design team feel, deep down?

[00:31:01] Joe Simpson: I wonder how deep down the design team feel about this. There are lots of rumors floating: it was an Elon sketch and then that Franz actually really pushed back against it for a long time. And then at a point where you work for a company, you work for someone like Elon, that you’re just like, let’s do it.

[00:31:18] And then you end up believing in it. and inherently, having done this, when you work on products, you are hurt when people slag them off , it is a part of you. It’s back to the previous conversation about you put yourself into it and you end up believing your own hubris.

[00:31:35] And I wonder. I wonder how that design team feels genuinely. I’d be very curious. No, I’m saying that totally without prejudice. I wonder whether they’re like, no, this is this is what the future should be. This is like how to move the industry forward, how to move society forward. I’m totally like on board with this or whether there’s a sort of deep down: well, it’s yeah polarizing and interesting to work on. And it was exciting, but. It was Elon’s vision that fundamentally couldn’t really be challenged and I don’t actually agree with it. I know plenty of people in our

[00:32:10] Drew Smith: And you

[00:32:11] Joe Simpson: with our

[00:32:11] Drew Smith: I’ve

[00:32:11] Joe Simpson: CEOs vision of where we’re going. So it’s natural. I’m just very curious about how they feel.

[00:32:17] Drew Smith: look, I’ve, I’ve, I in, in my history as a design strategist, I have, I have worked for a tobacco company. I have worked for two oil

[00:32:27] Joe Simpson: Gambling company?

[00:32:28] Drew Smith: yes, I have. I

[00:32:32] have worked for a gambling company. All the good ones.

[00:32:35] I ran an innovation workshop for a gambling company in a seven star hotel in Rome.

[00:32:40] They flew me in for the day.

[00:32:42] Joe Simpson: How do you feel about

[00:32:43] Drew Smith: I’m shit, like absolutely, like fundamentally really shit. and I guess this is what I, the point that I’m trying to make is that each of those experiences were were learning experiences, they were opportunities for me to reflect on is is this the kind of impact that I want to have in the world? Is this the kind of stuff to which I want to dedicate my time and my energy and what intelligence I have?

[00:33:13] And I made a determination that no, it just wasn’t worth it for me. And these projects were ten, ten, over ten years ago now. And I’ve made a, I just made a decision that if those sorts of projects came along, I wouldn’t work on them

[00:33:27] And this taps into the conversation we were having on the episode around the Toyota Century .

Our responsibility as designers and the choices we make

[00:33:32] Drew Smith: As designers, as industrial designers, as people who are responsible for essentially turning raw materials into objects in the world, we have a greater responsibility now than, at any point in the history of industrial design as a practice to really question what kind of impact it is that we want to have.

[00:33:55] And I’m not here to hector, I’m not here to lecture, but I am here to hold up a mirror and say, really, when you think deeply about this car, is this the future that you want to see? Because it’s pretty f***ing dark.

[00:34:13] Joe Simpson: I just want to do a slight counter tack against that. Which is that

[00:34:19] Drew Smith: Go for it.

[00:34:21] Joe Simpson: While I hear you and I’m there too, I think you and I are in this sort of slightly privileged position of both having been consultants for a long time, both perhaps being old enough and, gnarly enough and hardened enough. And also fundamentally now at the point in our life in a sort of fortuitous position where it’s like, well I think it’s going to work out okay, I’ve got some savings .

[00:34:45] I know a lot of more junior designers who are working in large organisations who really don’t feel that they can challenge, who really don’t feel secure enough that they can take that kind of stand.

[00:34:59] And I spend a lot of my day, as a strategist in the company I work for, really fighting for design and what I and what we as an organization believe is the right thing to do for the company, for the people who are our customers, for the wider world that our products impact upon and ultimately the planet.

[00:35:20] And you can say you work for a car company, it’s complete bullshit, but genuinely that’s why I go to work every day and I fight for what I believe is right.

[00:35:28] But I’m in quite a fortuitous position, quite a senior position of being able to do that, and my management are like, go and do that with the rest of the business, that’s what you’re there for. There are many designers who are working on programs, in programs, who don’t really have that voice and that ability.

[00:35:44] And so if you add someone who is the character of Musk on top of that organization, and what I know he’s done with people in the past and some of the culture there. I think that it might be very hard for many of those designers, many of those engineers, to be in a position where they felt they could say, not in my name, not in, I’m sure some of them tried, to be like, let’s go here instead, or here’s an alternative view, or no, that’s not the right way.

[00:36:15] But it may have come to a point, I imagine, where it’s like, either do it, or the door’s there. And not everyone is in a position where they can be like, yeah, alright, see ya. You know, not everyone is confident enough to be like, I’ll get another job tomorrow. So I think there is that factor, and I think we have to be, I maybe sound like I’m being an apologist for the design team and the fact that I know some of them a bit maybe is kind of playing on my mind here, but I’m just very curious as to that kind of like reality.

[00:36:41] I’m like, maybe they’re all like, nope, this is the future. This is it. Totally with Elon. 100 percent I buy into it. And in which case, yeah, I disagree.

[00:36:50] Drew Smith: I can imagine that for any engineer or designer, let’s not forget we’re talking about thoroughly sort of white collar jobs that are going to be remunerated extremely well. for any engineer or designer working at Tesla, there will be other OEMs just willing to bite their hand off. to come and join, But if, if, if we, if we’re not asking ourselves those questions, if we’re not asking ourselves questions around the type of future that we want to create in the first instance, then our opportunity to either advocate for change, Internally, right? And as, as we’ve acknowledged, trying to do that against a,a wannabe Messiah like Musk is going to be extremely challenging, but you can try, or affect that change by dedicating ourselves to causes that, that do generate the future that we want to see. If we’re not asking those questions in the first place, then that change is never going to happen.

[00:37:47] Joe Simpson: On that, I have no argument. And I think that it brings us back into this whole, a whole question of the role of the designer , um, the, the, potential impact that we as people who, I think most of us went into this to do something to make the world a better place. Or maybe just do cool shit. I don’t know.

[00:38:14] But I think for most people.

[00:38:16] Drew Smith: I don’t know, I’ve met plenty

[00:38:18] for whom just

[00:38:19] Joe Simpson: No, just doing cool shit is fine, some of the time. but there is a thing where it’s I think, implicit in design is, I’m gonna do a new one of that car, or I’m gonna work on this thing, because, look, we can do something that’s better than what was before. Even if that better is just, we can make it look cooler, But there’s many other, better, kind of things, which sit around that. And I think That’s where it gets, it’s really interesting then as a designer to be like, where are your, skills? Where can you most, where can you have most impact for good? And then there’s this existential question about, do you,are you outside the tent pissing in or are you inside the tent pissing out?

[00:38:58] And I for a long time was on the consultancy side, because I felt like I’d have more, most impact actually from the outside trying to be like, Hey, look, I’m just an external viewpoint and this is it. And this is what’s happening in the outside world. And companies going, Oh shit, really?

[00:39:12] Oh, And then you impact and have, and it’s really interesting now being on the inside and having that kind of other perspective. And there’s pros and cons to both, but there’s been many examples way beyond the auto industry recently of big name people, I think stepping out of large organizations because they’re like, you know what? Within this framework of this business being publicly listed and just needing to make it shareholders money You can’t actually affect the change you need to do

A crisis of masculinity in automotive design

[00:39:39] Joe Simpson: I’d really love to get some perspectives from other designers on this. I actually see quite a lot of favorability towards it, I think, on LinkedIn from a lot of designers.

[00:39:49] Drew Smith: Uh, well, have a feeling that, okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that crisis of masculinity issue is going to be affecting a lot of car designers as well, because they’re looking, they’re looking the thing that they came into the industry to do being attacked by woke forces. You know, the transition to EVs, the you know, like, there’s all sorts of stuff in there that I think they’re probably thinking, Well, I came here to design, like, fucking cool shit. And now everything is being whittled down because of

[00:40:29] Joe Simpson: Well, you can’t do much cool shit because you have to pay so much for the battery and worked it out that, like, you can’t do anything cool anymore.

[00:40:38] Is

[00:40:38] Drew Smith: I I imagine for a lot of designers, the majority of whom are men,

[00:40:43] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:40:43] Drew Smith: this thing is like, ah, fuck, yeah!

[00:40:47] Joe Simpson: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:40:49] Drew Smith: fuck, Like, yeah, this is cool, like, Grr!

[00:40:52] Joe Simpson: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think, I’m very curious as to how many women will buy a Cybertruck.



[00:41:00] Joe Simpson: that was a Podcast about the Tesla Cybertruck We hope that you know Having anticipated this moment for a long time that you enjoyed this, our 13th episode of the Looking Out podcast.

[00:41:17] Drew Smith: Lucky number 13 was a Cybertruck funny that,

[00:41:21] Coming up on our next show uh, well, it’s going to be an exciting one actually. We’ll take a little bit of a break, over Christmas, but I am going to be at C E S the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

[00:41:35] I’m also trying to get tickets to see Kylie while I’m there, just as an aside. But CES, I think we can all agree has become one of the most significant car shows, on the planet. So it’s going to be really interesting to see how the OEMs and the startups show up there. I’m sure we’re going to see AI in absolutely everything after the year we’ve had with ChatGPT. so look out for a new episode to drop in mid January.

[00:42:01] If you liked this show, please leave us a review on YouTube or some comments. We love reading the comments and working with your feedback.

[00:42:11] If you know somebody who might like the show, please go ahead and share it with them. we’d love to spread the word.

[00:42:17] For more about the topics in this show, head to our website at lookingout. io where you can also sign up for the partner newsletter.

[00:42:28] Looking out the podcast was written and presented

[00:42:30] by Drew Smith.

[00:42:32] Joe Simpson: And Joe Simpson.

[00:42:34] Drew Smith: This is Drew Smith and thank you for listening.

End note

[00:42:36] Drew Smith: Higge, it’s a higge. Christmas tree,

[00:42:41] Joe Simpson: sounds like Borat doing Danish. Like, cosiness.

[00:42:49] Drew Smith: That’s getting in the Christmas spirit.

[00:42:54] Joe Simpson: Oh dear, ​

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November 23, 2023