Canoo's MPDV is the most exciting vehicle I've seen this year.
The boxy Cybertruck-esque MPDV (Multi-Purpose Delivery Vehicle) is a modular platform that can be customized to serve a huge number of disparate use cases; from simple cargo hauler to food truck.
If you're not familiar, Canoo is a startup transportation company in LA founded in 2017 by Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz formerly of Faraday Future and BMW. Their small team is radically reinventing transportation with an electric vehicle platform that sheds conventional car packaging constraints.
A real life Lego car - embracing modularity
While some may be unimpressed by it's boxy aesthetic, the MPDV's deceptively simple appearance is an affordance made in the name of customization. The more complex a form, the harder it is to modify. Keeping it simple makes it easier to build a system out of. It also lowers production costs and MSRP, which is not a trend we're used to seeing in the automotive world.
The brilliant designers at Canoo have replaced a singular product with a system.
When a design detail can serves multiple functions, a designer somewhere gets their wings. From the loading ramp that stows in the floor, to the storage rack that's accessible from both inside and out, to the collapsible dolly that hides in a wall panel, every component of the MPDV has a purpose and a place. The amount of utility that this system affords is nothing short of awesome. This is what happens when you focus 100% on usability. It may not be the sexiest thing on four wheels, but it may be the most useful.
It's impossible not to compare the MPDV to the Tesla Cybertruck. They share the same simple planar surfacing, minimal detail, and blatant absence of conventional automotive "form." It's more of a product design, but that's the point.
The simple exterior can be personalized with vinyl wraps with all manner of graphics to make it more you. But wait there's more. It's not unusual to see utility vehicles produced in varying sizes for different loads and tasks. This usually requires substantial design modifications to integrate adjusted proportions into the vehicle's surfacing.
The MPDV is so simple they made 3 different sizes by pretty much extruding existing geometry. It's so easy! Seeing the three different sizes together brings a smile to my face. It just makes sense. Why has nobody done this before?
I was blown away with the clean interior of the Canoo LV, but the MPDV pushes it to a utilitarian maximum.
Like the LV, the MPDV employs Canoo's patented steer-by-wire system, which eliminates the need for a bulky dashboard or driveshaft. The sheering wheel houses a few necessary controls, but the majority are shifted to the driver's mobile device which sits in a conveniently angled slot near the side window. I like this approach of leveraging the technology people already own, instead of integrating an infotainment system that drives up cost and can't be easily replaced/upgraded. At the same time it's not forcing everything into software form like Tesla.
There's a convenient shelf along the front dash that can be accessed from the outside by opening a section of the enormous windshield, saving precious time and backs. The ceiling is high enough to stand fully upright and a centered walkway that stretches from driver's seat to the back door.
The rest is kind of up to you.
You can add a booster seat, shelves for boxes, racks for clothes, fold out displays for street vendors, an expanding counter and awning for food trucks... The back be fitted with horizontal swinging doors, or a vertical garage-style option. Everything just slots into a system of rails and attachment points on the boxy frame. This is a game changer for small business owners and service providers. There's even a foldable dolly and fire extinguisher all custom made to stow in various compartments.
The base price of ~$33,000 is impressively affordable, but I'm curious to see how configurations affect it.
The Big Picture
The effectiveness of Canoo's modular approach is reflected in their rapidly expanding lineup. The vision is clear, one platform that can support almost any type of transportation. We've already got their passenger van and the MPDV, but there are plans to add a pickup truck, sedan, and larger cargo hauler to the list. This to me is good design. It's simple and intelligent. It does a lot with a little, and it accommodates everyone. This is the kind of work I dream of doing. It's exciting to see companies like Canoo driving innovation in the face of established automakers. Sometimes you have to do a job yourself if you want it done right.