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Five things we know about Tesla's elusive chief designer

Franz Von Holzhausen is chief designer of Tesla Motors, the high-end electric car company that’s been called “the Apple of the auto industry." 

This means the 47-year-old is the brains behind the Tesla Model S, a car that’s received a ton of industry praise, including the 2013 Motor Trend car of the year, Automobile magazine’s car of the year in 2012, and Consumer Report’s top scoring car ever in 2013.

Tesla delivered 10,030 cars in Q1 of 2015, and they're expected to relase Q2 numbers on Wednesday. As investors await the report, we thought we'd take a look at the famous car's not-so-famous designer.

Despite the fact that he heads up design for such a buzzed-about car company, little is known about Von Holzhausen. His Wikipedia page contains fewer than 150 words, he has done few major press interviews (he spoke at SXSW in February, though we couldn’t find any video of the event). He’s only published two tweets ever and there’s no salary or net worth information available about him in the public domain (predictably, Tesla said he was not available to be interviewed for this piece).

Here’s what we do know about Von Holzhausen:

1. He’s worldly
Despite the name, he’s not German, but he does have an international bent. Von Holzhausen spent a good chunk of his college years in Switzerland, according to a 2010 interview. That’s probably where he picked up German. He’s fluent enough in Deutsch to diss Tesla rival BMW in the car maker’s native tongue. In 2013 he told German car site autobild.de: “der i3 ist wie ein IKEA-Möbelstück,” which translates to the BMW i3 (a Model S competitor) is like a piece of furniture from IKEA.

2. Elon Musk was impressed by him
Word is that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, personally recruited Von Holzhausen to Tesla from Mazda back in 2008.

Von Holzhausen was sold on the company’s commitment to an eco-friendly mission after he toured the Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters with Musk—he’s been with Tesla ever since.

3. He’s (really) good at what he does
Von Holzhausen’s initial task at Tesla was an unprecedented one: design an electric car from scratch. The final product – the Model S – has around 250 original patents.

He was also tasked with setting the design aesthetic for the entire Tesla brand through the Model S. In a 2010 interview Von Holzhausen said he resisted the urge to be “uber avant-garde” in his design in order to appeal to a broad audience. The result is a cool looking car that’s marketable to the entire public.

The Model S won the 2013 IDEA best in show award, an honor given to the top piece of industrial design each year. Critics have praised its aerodynamic design as well as Von Holzhausen’s original approach to the project (he created a “new architecture” specific to electric automobiles).

4. He’s got an impressive resume beyond Tesla
Von Holzhausen began his professional design career in 1992, assisting design on the VW Concept One (the “New Beetle” of the 90s).

He then worked for GM for five years before going to Mazda in 2005. There, Von Holzhausen designed the Mazda Kabura, a well-received sporty concept car.  

Going even farther back, Von Holzhausen attended Syracuse University for two years before transferring to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena (notable alumni include movie director Michael Bay of the “Transformers” franchise and Chris Bangle, former chief of design at BMW). He has a Bachelor’s in Transportation Design.

5. His inspiration for the Tesla Model S was…
The Tour De France. He told Bloomberg that he tried to emulate the “sinewy” physique of endurance athletes in his design. He notes that in the end, it all boils down to the same driving principle: efficiency.