Designing the Future of Off-Road

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Michael Uhlarik
March 16, 2021
3 Min read

If electrification, van life and overland adventuring are having their breakthrough moment then I may be the luckiest designer on the planet. Fate, it seems, has steered me to the point where the next big thing on four wheels meets the sum of my personal and professional experiences.

I am so very pleased to have found my way to Potential Motors as Head of Design. In some ways it almost feels like it was inevitable given my lifetime of backwoods adventures on foot and in my Westy, as well as a quarter century of vehicle design. Being presented with the opportunity to help create the future of off-road overland vehicles, with special emphasis on sustainability and exploration of wild spaces, is something that resonates strongly with my personal values.

After investing over a decade of pioneering work into high performance electric motorcycles all across the globe, I felt like it was time to focus more of my energies closer to home and in the wild spaces that I love. I was introduced to Potential Motors through a friend who told me about the company’s use of machine learning to elevate off-road driving for everyone, just as I began planning my family’s next epic camper van adventure. When the role of Head of Design was offered, it seemed a perfect confluence of my professional goals and personal passions.

The off-road vehicle space is crowded with offerings, from SUVs, to side-by-side UTVs, to more traditional ATVs, but for the most part the technology and design of these archetypes has remained static for decades. The most popular manufacturers are slowly waking up to the needs of electrification, but continue to design their vehicles as before. This is a waste of an amazing opportunity.

above: Camping, exploring and drawing…these are a few of my favourite things

Using electricity for propulsion opens the doors to the kind of transformational innovation that can expand the addressable market for off-roading by orders of magnitude. It is the kind of step-change in design that only occurs once or twice in a century, and presents a chance to create not just an iconic new vehicle but a whole new category.

The way to tackle this challenge is not to see it as a styling exercise, but as an integrated design project like an aircraft, where mechanical, electrical and software engineers create solutions together with industrial designers concurrently as a whole, instead of the more traditional systems approach.

Over the next ten months the Potential Motors design team are I are going to realize our vision of what the future of off-road could be. Not just some new lines on an electrified UTV, but a new concept in terms of layout, materials, and capability that is going to surprise and delight existing experts as well as novices alike. To do that we are going to spend a lot of time in the woods, in the lab, and behind the drawing tablet.

I’d say that I can’t wait to get into it, but the truth is I already started. Years ago in fact.


About the author

Michael Uhlarik is an international award winning vehicle designer and product planner, and the Head of Design at Potential Motors. His work and analysis have featured in the Globe & Mail, Reuters, Wired, the New York Times Online and most international motorcycle trade and transportation design publications. He is based in Halifax, Canada.

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