Would you buy an electric car from Ikea? And if you did . . . would you have to assemble it yourself?
The answers to both those questions are yes, according to Ryan Schlotthauer, a recent graduate of the College of Creative Studies in Detroit. For his thesis project, he was inspired by the French auto manufacturer Renault and the world’s largest furniture company Ikea to craft the Höga.
The Höga is a completely conceptual electric car that is flat-packed and assembled by you, just like a piece of Ikea furniture. And while it’s only a speculative design that has just been modeled in software and isn’t planned for manufacture, it’s still a captivating and surprisingly feasible project to unpack.
The base of the Höga (a Swedish word which translates to “high”) is a flat “skateboard” chassis. These designs, which squeeze the batteries and motors of the vehicle into a car’s bottom, are increasingly popular in electric cars. With no bulky gas engine, it allows designers to imagine almost anything on top for the vehicle’s cabin. (Companies like Canoo are selling customizable truck/van hybrids based upon this exact skateboard premise.)
Schlotthauer’s approach was to treat the top of the Höga like one big piece of Ikea furniture, delivered in 374 pieces that are designed to be light enough for you to lift them and assemble yourself. Inspired by Bauhaus’s bare-bones design principles, Schlotthauer chose basic colors (red, yellow, and blue) to help guide the build process, and make sense of the cabin for day-to-day use, too.
Blue components are for comfort. Yellow components are for controls. And red components signal technological parts. “I wanted it to be very easy and recognizable, especially for older users,” says Schlotthauer. “This interior is actually inspired by my grandparents. I’ll go color-code things for them so it’s easy to use the TV and things like that.”
Inside, the basic shapes of Bauhaus (circles and squares) also inspired many components in the design. The result is a cabin that doesn’t have the hand-sculpted, ergonomic feel of most vehicles on the market. I imagine that means it would be less comfortable to drive than your average Ford or Toyota, but the images of a perfectly round steering wheel and sharp-cornered arm rests are certainly compelling.
The upper body itself is an A-frame construction—think of it like a tent on wheels—and the body panels are made from a recyclable plastic. The idea is that Ikea could reclaim those body panels when they degrade, recycling them into new products and lowering the environmental footprint of the vehicle. Schlotthauer also suggests that, rather than incorporating some complicated computer like a Tesla, the Höga invites you to plug in your tablet or phone of choice. That’s a great idea, assuming the platform could be built stably. These are supercomputers in our pockets. Why can’t our car just be another app?
The Höga’s most appealing aspect, however, must be its front and rear doors. Rather than two or four doors to allow people to enter and sit down, the vehicle is like a trapezoidal tube that opens entirely at each end. As Schlotthauer’s renders demonstrate, you can roll in a wheelchair or bike, basically treating the cabin like a room on wheels.
That storage space is impressive, especially given the fact that this design has such a tiny footprint. Schlotthauer imagines the Höga as a low-speed European vehicle along the lines of the Citroën Ami—a car so small that it actually runs on a motorcycle engine. And while the Höga won’t actually go into production, if Ikea did sell such a car with Schlotthauer’s estimated $6,500 sticker price, I imagine that sales would be off the charts.
Just one problem . . . how do you drive the boxes home? (That’s a joke. It’s actually made to be delivered.)