Listen: Automotive designer Fede Ponce on why he ordered the Tesla Cybertruck

Fede Ponce

You either love Cybertruck or you hate it.

Designer Fede Ponce has worked for Nissan and BMW. He’s currently consulting with Mercedes, and won awards for his work on the Iron Man and Thor movies. He’s worked on autonomous vehicles and heads-up displays.

He’s also the chief innovation officer at Ronin X Design

Hear why he’s ordered a Tesla Cybertruck:

Or, get the episode at Anchor.fm or on Spotify, and soon wherever podcasts are distributed. You can also get the full story in my post on Forbes.

Here’s the transcript: Cybertruck interview

One thing: be aware this is auto-generated. It’s lightly edited for clarity, but not completely. So there may be some oddities below …

John Koetsier: Welcome to Tech First Draft.

Tesla’s Cybertruck: awesome or awful?

This is Tech First Draft: tech  news before it’s news. My name is John Koetsier. I write for Forbes. I consult with some tech companies. If you’re on live social right now, awesome. You’re riding along on an interview for a story. If you’re hearing this on the podcast afterwards, welcome also.

So if you want to talk about cars and design, and maybe especially Cybertruck, you should talk to someone who’s actually a designer, right?  especially in the automotive industry. That seems to make sense. So our guest today is a chief innovation officer of Ronan X design. He’s been a senior consultant with Nissan on design, autonomous vehicles and heads-up displays.

He was also a senior UI UX designer with BMW. And currently he’s developing next generation experiences with Mercedes. He’s also consulted with multiple companies, including Nike, Sony, HBO, and he’s won the Key Art award, for Iron Man 3 and Thor.

That is pretty freaking cool. So. I would like to welcome Fede Ponce welcome.

Fede Ponce: Hi, John, welcome. Thank you so much for having me.

John Koetsier: I am so happy to have you, and you are a very patient man. Thank you so much. I really do appreciate it. Uh, I had huge issues getting you on the audio for this, and it was all my fault and you didn’t blow up on me and freak out at me.

Fede Ponce: Still the, the fact remains … my comment on the chat … PC is a little problematic.

John Koetsier: It could be the case. He’s using a PC. I’m using a Mac right now. Let’s jump right into it. Cybertruck. I wrote an article for Forbes and I said, uh, you know, hey, I hate it.

I’m sorry. I hate the design.

Talk to me: Cybertruck … love it or hate it?

Fede Ponce: I absolutely love it. It is such a bold design. And then thinking about it this way, John, right now, if you were to remove the badges or logos of most cars in the street. Would you — you’re a knowledgeable guy — you’d probably recognize them, but most people won’t.

Right? So if you look at Cybertruck, just from a pure branding perspective, I’ll get into design later. But pure, pure branding, you will see a Cybertruck and you know, it’s Tesla automatically. You don’t need to see a badge. You don’t need to see anything else. Right?

So that’s a very bold statement in terms of the actual design. Right. Let’s break it down. Let’s break it down into exterior and interior. And by the way, did you see the announcement today on the matte black? You can’t tell me that matte black doesn’t look badass.

John Koetsier: It’s pretty amazing.

Fede Ponce: So a couple of things, right? So this is like, you know, their first presentation.

So one thing to understand about Tesla is that it, it’s probably v1. Right? So they’ll probably take on some advice. They’ll take on some, a little bit of the, you know, good feedback that they hear and they’ll probably bring that back to the production model. And I’m sure that the production model will have, there will be a little bit of … translation.

Uh, you know, there’ll be some translation issues. So, yes, that being said, um, let’s talk about the exterior for a second. So one of the key things that’s super interesting to me and, and, and this is something that I’d love to ask you is, is Tesla has always elicited some very strong responses.

Um, love it or hate it. And I know a lot of people that are, you know, sort of milk toast about it. So what’s interesting to me though, is that having worked with all these, uh, very, very, very good OEMs, and by the way, these companies, they employ some of the best, most talented people. Uh, but one thing I’ll tell you as an insider is when you’re in the meetings, when you’re inside.

What comes up, Tesla comes up. Right. Um, and, and it’s interesting because the design process, uh, from what I know, I have disclaimer, I’ve never worked at Tesla. I know a few designers from there, but I’ve never been in the room. Um, but from the other companies, the design process is very different.

It’s a very, it’s a little bit of an isolated bubble. Um, and the design decisions sometimes. If not, most of the times get watered down or tweaked to serve very different departments. Right. And ultimately the companies live to satisfy the client. So that’s the thing. Now enter Tesla, enter Cybertruck.

Right? That’s, that’s, it’s bold. It’s bold. It’s daring. They’re not trying to satisfy, you know, a specific, you know. Set of, of, of people that they brought in for interview, I mean, this is a designer straight. They came in and they did what they wanted. They had a vision and there’s obviously some really smart people in the room now for, you know, it’s not a people’s, if you’re not a designer.

You don’t have a responsibility to know that there’s a history to this exercise, right? So if you look at the work and the art of REM Koolhaus and joy, Roy ruder portraying his name, you’ll see that these are very beautiful art pieces that have a philosophy, right? And the philosophies you have to take a shape.

And reduce it to its most pure form. And how do you reduce it to its most pure form and still have it remained functional and still have it, you know, someone aesthetic, somewhat aesthetic. So it’s a, it’s a huge endeavor. It’s, minimalism is one of the hardest things to pull through. And um, in my view, they did it right with the, with the Tesla exterior.

Now if you want to look at it from a functionality point of view. Um, you know, there’s some really good points to be made. So, uh, no, no rust. So pretty heavy duty stuff, right? Everybody saw the hammer thing. Um, it’s pretty cool. It, you know, obviously it’s, it’s a show thing, but if you think about it being on a construction site or you’re being around thinking about a big thing on a rugged terrain, it’s a big deal.

Now in terms of a interface system, this is where I’m getting really excited. Now. You’ll look at the ATV. If you saw the ATV, you saw the camper, and you start seeing the ecosystem around it and the design language. You can see, number one, a design language that it propagates properly across different vehicles, and you see a design language that works as a cohesive ecosystem and that that’s amazing.

And that to me in terms of appeal and in terms of marketing, in terms of just the value of the product, opens up itself to different markets. So I could completely see, uh, you know, if somebody that loves camping, getting that car, I can see somebody that loves extreme sports. You know, if you’re going to go on like a four wheel drive, rugged terrain to surf in some area, I can totally see that car.

Um, so I love it. I love it. Exterior, I love it. Um, for the interior, very minimal. Again, I don’t know what stage that interior is very, very clean. Um, and then again, you know, sort of the same thing happens. I, I look at what Ford did with the Mustang with the Mach E release, and you look at that and, and you look at that dashboard that’s clearly inspired by Tesla.

Right? Right. And so, um, what I see is that what Tesla does is they continue to push the envelope and they push it as far as possible. And then maybe, you know, they might bring it back a little bit, but guess what? Now they set the standard, and I can almost guarantee you that’s going to be the case for the Cybertruck.

Maybe, you know, the next generation of trucks won’t be as close to that, but they’ll experiment closer with sharper edges and they’ll reduce a little bit more of the volumes and the curves, and they’ll start bringing in some of those really sharp lines to the design language that I, that’s what I think seeing history, what will eventually happen.

John Koetsier: Amazing

Fede Ponce: The UI, the UI looks incredible, very minimal, very black and white. Again, there might be some updates. But from a designer’s point of view, like that’s, that’s the dream. That’s a UI dream. White lines and text is simple as it gets.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Did you order one?

Fede Ponce: I did. I did put an order for one.

John Koetsier: When is your expected delivery date? Do you know that yet?

Fede Ponce: I think, uh, let me check. I think it’s 2021 or 2022 2021, I think. Yeah.

John Koetsier: So, so talk to me a little bit. Um, you’re talking about design language, you’re talking about the exterior and, and I remember, I, I travel quite a bit as you, as you, and I remember going to Houston for the first time, Oh, this is going somewhere, so bear with me, I’m going to Houston for the first time. And I saw the buildings and thought, wow, this is brutalist architecture. You know, this is like not human. Right? And, and as you look at the Cybertruck and people are saying. And it’s built for a post-apocalyptic future. It’s brutal.

It’s militaristic or something like that. I don’t know which of those I agree with or don’t disagree with. What do you see? What do you see emotionally when you see Cybertruck?

Fede Ponce: I see absolute functionality. I do agree, it’s a little bit more on the militaristic side of things. Uh, but I also want to remind people that … do you know remember Hummers? Remember when Hummers were new and, and, I very clearly remember, cause I never liked them, that the original reaction to them was that people were asking why are these military vehicles driving on the street? Right?

It’s very similar, you know, so it’s not impossible that a very aggressive vehicle can enter the mainstream like that. Um, I think the same case could be said for the Mercedes Safari, it’s like the C class, I don’t remember top of my head, but very boxy, very square, very aggressive.

Right?

And then we drive down some of the luxury areas here in Los Angeles. It’s a very famous car. So again, going back to your point, is that these vehicles that seem to be part of another system to enter the mainstream, it’s just takes a little bit for that initial emotional reaction to kind of pass.

John Koetsier: Well, well, I think that makes a lot of sense. I said it in the article it was ugly as sin. Sorry! But we live in an era where it does not need to appeal to 100% of people. In fact, if it appeals to 100% people is probably not gonna be successful.

It’s probably too average, too mainstream. It only needs to appeal to, what is it, 5% of people, 10% of people, 3% of people who knows … any particular product in the market. And those people, guess what, are probably pretty passionate about it and willing to lay out $50K $60K, $70K, whatever it might be to have that object.

So is that something of what you think is happening here as well?

Fede Ponce: Absolutely. I think, I think you nailed it. I think you absolutely nailed it. I think the era of mass in shapes and forms is completely gone, you know, and not just in automotive, you look at sneakers: customization is a big deal.

And so the next biggest thing, the closer to customization you can get in the automating space is having this really bold, uh, designs that, like you said, absolutely don’t appeal to anybody. And to see that in emerging startups that will be huge, that are three D printing, exterior carcasses. And I’m telling you, man, the future looks really bright.

You’ll be able to go design your own exterior, you know, within some parameters and have it 3D printed.

John Koetsier: Okay, wonderful. And um, talk a little bit about the intense reactions that we’ve seen. Uh, I had one, obviously you had one.

When you have something that is clearly new, you’re going to have violently opposing reactions.

Fede Ponce: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a little bit hard to parse, to be honest with you. I wrote a small piece about it. Um, I have design friends and I won’t say from which brands, but a lot of my designer friends and a lot of friends that are, uh, you know, top designers, even some VPs, some of them hate it, some of them love it.

Absolutely. There’s no in between. Um, but once you’d go into the mainstream and try to sort of get the temperature is very difficult to parse because a lot of people obviously don’t like the brand, and the brand does have some serious enemies, and that’s like a serious conversation. You know, there’s a lot of blogs and tech writers and people that are influenced by, you know, Tesla enemies, and that’s the truth.

So it’s really difficult to parse that origin of that emotion.

John Koetsier: Right, right, right, right. Uh, it was, it was interesting. I don’t know if you saw it. I tweeted about this, uh, this morning … an electric vehicle website and a Toyota exec event. They had brought a bunch of journalists together and he said, we do not see demand for electric vehicles.

I was just like, have you seen the preorders for Cybertruck? Tesla mean something to you? Have you seen that every other automotive manufacturer in the world is bringing out an electric vehicle? The electric Mini is coming out next year. I’m looking at that one by the way.

Fede Ponce: It looks cool. I’ll tell you a really funny anecdote.

So Sunday I went out with the for breakfast with a bunch of designers. Actually we like to keep in touch. We were all sitting at the cafe and everybody’s quiet, right? Everybody’s quiet and we’re just waiting for everyone to get there. Nobody’s saying anything.

And then one of our friends, finally the last one would come in and then he just goes. Cybertruck, let’s get it out.

John Koetsier: And what was the overall reaction?

Fede Ponce: It’s super mixed. Half of them hated it. Half of, I think half of them thought it was just way too far. I they saw the intention, but it design-wise, it just went way too far.

And then some of them, again, praised Tesla because it was bold and very, very different. So no in between. Which is kind of a sign of the times, right. Very polarizing opinions,

John Koetsier: very much. Yeah. Yeah, I could see that. And so it is an interesting design, but also in terms of functionality, which you’ve mentioned, right.

Um, this cold rolled is steel super strong. Right. It will come unpainted in some, in some models as well, correct? Have we ever seen that before in a vehicle?

Fede Ponce: No. No.

And I think in terms of manufacturing, the way it’s designed, the way it’s built, and because it’s not painted, it will significantly reduce manufacturing costs.

John Koetsier: I think there’s a lot of talk about how Cybertruck was designed as well. Can be automatable. In terms of, um, in terms of being built.

So that’s super interesting. I’ve also looked at the interior, which I thought was interesting. You talked about that. And  I looked at the steering wheel, which is not really a steering wheel. I mean, it’s not a circle. It’s, it’s more like a yoke, almost like an airplane. I believe, um, the Tesla sports car, the Roadster had something similar.

And so we see that actually in race cars as well. I wondered a little bit if that was kind of, you know, we’re not giving you a full steering wheel because you know, self-driving is coming pretty soon. That was entering the conversation there.

Fede Ponce: Yeah, and before I jump in, one important point that I want to ask you and I want to ask the audiences, there’s a bigger big difference between seeing the car on the show and then actually see it moving on the road.

And when you see it moving, it’s something else, man. It’s, it’s. It’s a little scary in a good way.

John Koetsier: So have you seen it in person then?

Fede Ponce: Not in person, but I’ve seen just seeing the videos of it, you know?

John Koetsier: Okay. Yeah, the videos are impressive. I think that we underestimate the size as well. And sorry, sorry, go ahead.

Fede Ponce: Uh, yeah, absolutely. Just to, you know, consider that, that Tesla is the only car company —  and I have no affiliation to them — but it’s very important to point out that if the only car company that has built an intelligent ecosystem and the body that you see on the Cybertruck comes directly from research done from space X.

So the fact that they’re able to tap into talent from space X, star Lake. Uh, probably in the future and Neuralink and that this is a full ecosystem. Um, it is absolutely going to bring some really good innovation into the, uh, automotive space for sure.

John Koetsier: I think that’s a really, really big deal that you bringing up there.

And I should have gone into that more actually, the only car that has an ecosystem and when we know about superchargers right. We know about self-driving capability, you mentioned add on to the Cybertruck platform in terms of their, they’re sort of a tent thing. There’s the, in Walden photos, there’s like a barbecue or like a little outdoor kitchen type scenario.

Right. Um, and building that ecosystem around it. The software, nobody else can do software like Tesla can do it in the automotive world because the company has software DNA. Right, right. That is super interesting to me as well, the car as ecosystem. We know, uh, what won in the mobile wars: ecosystem.

Fede Ponce: I wouldn’t be surprised if his next step would be some sort of a housing printable housing company. You know, everything around building stuff for Mars.

John Koetsier: Wow. Wow. This has been wonderful.

I know you’re heading out on the airplane in like literally 90 minutes. So thank you so much. I hope you don’t have a long trip to get there. And for everybody else who joined us on the live stream or on the podcast, thank you for joining us on Tech First Draft. Whatever platform you’re on, please like, subscribe, share, comment.

If you’re on the podcast and you love this, please rate it and review it. Thank you again, Fede, and until next time, this is John Koetsier with tech first draft.

Fede Ponce: Thank you.

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John Koetsier