Asymcar 22: The Goddess

“From the moment an idea is worth having no one cares what it costs” – Andre Citroën

The incomparable Citroen DS (French homophone: déesse), 60 years old this year.  Hydropneumatic, self-levelling suspension aerodynamic and interior design efficiency, swiveling headlights, novel construction methods. Ahead of its time even in 1985. Why did this iconic design not endure?

We use this parable to analyze Apple Car rumors.

32mb mp3 about 65 minutes.

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Show Notes

The Prada of the Tire Industry

Citroen DS

Stephen Bayley’s paen to the Citroen DS appeared in the February, 2015 print and iPad issue of CAR Magazine.

  • scd

    What if the Apple car plan is something along the lines of
    developing an EV skateboard, available in say ‘small’ size and ‘plus’ size. The
    skateboard itself has all the necessary structural components needed to pass
    crash test requirements and drive the car (steering wheel etc…). That is you
    could drive it with no body. I guess it would need some tubular roll-over bars
    or frame of some kind. It would come with some kind of Apple OS playing through
    a tablet. The skateboard has fixed points at which a non-structural body can be

    Apple then follows the Apps model where it signs up people
    like Bertone/ Ghia/ ICON/ Pininfarina to design bodies, reverting back to the
    coach-built era (the roll-over tubular frame would limit freedom here so perhaps
    several tubular frames would be required – ‘low roof’ ‘high roof’ ‘convertible’).
    The chassis is the same (bar the two sizes) for coupes/ sedans/ crossovers/ minivans etc…

    In the extreme an individual could buy a rolling chassis and plonk a body on it (let’s say Apple gets to verify all bodies like it does Apps).

    There is thus no Apple car, there is an Apple chassis, which can be iterated very quickly with new battery tech. The disruption is that it allows these small boutique firms to compete asymmetrically with incumbents since they need very low capital – designing a non-structural body, wheels and seats will be trivial. The car business becomes the bicycle business in a way. The cars can be sold at Apple ‘car’ stores meaning the boutique firms don’t need to worry about distribution or servicing.

    These designs could be limited-run, changing constantly (Zara clothing model). Apple would update the chassis/ interface as it sees fit – the “Apps” would still be backwards-compatible as long as the fixing points for the body don’t change. Perhaps they roll out something similar to the supercharger network or simply sign an access agreement with Tesla.

    • Tim Sweetman

      Technical nitpick: DS had hydropneumatic, not air suspension. (Oil and nitrogen).

  • ShanghaiCAR

    Interesting Podcast. What may disruption look like? Watch the following:

    This is the future according to an automotive incumbent as presented at the Shanghai EXPO in 2010. The ENV is based on a Segway platform and the ENV2 is the next gen version. Notice some of the Applesque in vehicle technologies and those external to it. The autonomous intersection at the 2 minute mark, showing no traffic signals and nobody stopping… kinda what it feels like now, but with the lights 😉

    How will Apple play in this scenario? Why did they invest in maps? Possibly, that’s where the puck will be…

    As for the service economy, in Shanghai you can hire: drivers with a cube van, maid service, or manicure nail service done in your home all from a single app – from appointment to payment (no cash). Meals and shopping are delivered, quickly from various online services (Taobao) – my wife can order and try on clothes while the delivery person waits, should she not like it or it doesn’t fit properly.

    By the way, check this out…. what dealer network?

  • Tim Sweetman

    Wow. Super-dense episode, lots to think about. Very nice characterisation of Apple’s iterative feint-iterate-and-disrupt strategy.

    The thing I can’t get my head around regarding the Apple Car is what initial advantage Apple is going to enjoy. Sure, an iStream construction method is preferable regarding fuel economy and small production runs, but how does that translate into jobs to be done for the customer? (BMW is already building its iCars with iStream-like technology, right?) Apple’s obvious advantage relates to software – but, initially, Apple’s strength is in what you might call a car’s secondary controls: information, entertainment, climate control. The car’s primary controls – wheel and pedals – are not to be trifled with. Autonomous control is a major breakthrough, but requires machine learning technology which has, previously, been far more one of Google’s competencies than Apple’s.

    I may be taking an excessively techie view on this. “Boutique for stunningly designed electric cars” may be a promising business plan – and pre-positions Apple to exploit the autonomous vehicle market, just as iPod laid the groundwork for the iPhone. Apple Car 1.0 also acts as a BATNA to help Apple sell CarPlay.

    (Bear case: Apple Car is Apple’s Fire Phone).

    On Über, and the increasingly-misnamed “sharing economy”, it strikes me – and this is surely an old insight, though I don’t remember hearing it elsewhere, that – as with EBay, the breakthrough is: the reputation system. Without that, AirBnB vendors might be more reluctant to invite strangers into their homes, Über drivers would fear their passengers, and vice versa.

    • Walt French

      “AirBnB vendors might be more reluctant to invite strangers into their homes, Über drivers would fear their passengers, and vice versa.”

      As a young man, I hitchhiked around the US, getting rides from sailors on leave, middle-aged men, young women, … There was almost never any suggestion that the offer or acceptance of a ride was anything else.

      If the imprimatur of some indifferent corporation is sufficient to shift our perceptions away from the fearfulness of the last few decades, I’m pretty excited.

      • sizuco

        I did too. But the world is not the same, and as much as I wish we could get back to that era, I can’t see any signs that it’s going to happen – in fact, we’re moving in he opposite direction.

  • Bruce_Mc

    It’s easy to see a dystopian aspect to Horace’s predictions, especially when considering the trend of wealth to be concentrated in fewer hands. Basically the wealthy will be able to get their services without taking responsibility for the welfare of those serving them.

    Your neighbors would look down on you if your Footman was poorly dressed, didn’t have enough to eat, or was sickly. Neither Uber nor the passenger care about the long term health, well being, and happiness of an Uber driver.

    For a Maid it’s only a matter of time before maid services have their workers bidding against each other for individual jobs. The bidding is done on an app, of course.

    The “next billion” phone users are generally poorer and more rural than those who have phones now. They will be able to emigrate to cities (which they will do anyway), and start working by just registering with a few apps. With their phones they will disrupt whatever is left of the middle class.

    • Bruce_Mc

      People do not work to make money. According to “How Will You Measure Your Life,” people work for two reasons. They work to provide for themselves and their family, and they work for a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

      At best, Uber is pushing those goals down the stack. It can be argued that Uber is removing them from the stack entirely. For one example, in many geographic areas, what Uber does is illegal. Driving for Uber in those places makes you a criminal. That would not make me feel accomplished or satisfied.