Even Tesla Motors, the startup electric carmaker led by billionaire Elon Musk, isn’t as innovative as it appears. The Tesla Model S luxury sedan is a wonderful car, but it weighs more than 4,600 pounds. Granted, improvements in weight are rate-limited by battery innovation, but the car’s ingenious guts are still contained within a familiar, even banal shape … like a robot hand in a leather glove.
Why do major leaps forward come so rarely in the auto industry? There are of course the usual suspects: crash test standards, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requirements, European pedestrian safety protections; entrenched capital investment in infrastructure and manufacturing methods; long vehicle development cycles — the whole legacy kaboodle of a mature and highly regulated industry. But I spent four years researching, interviewing, and writing about inventors who aren’t limited to thinking like the auto companies, and who made cars that are drastic departures from the ones we’re driving now.