Among my many strange, off-putting car fetishes, there’s one that is consistently, creepily powerful: my love for unusual trunks. I’m especially fond of front trunks, or ‘frunks,’ since they tend to be more difficult to pull off well. The Tesla Model 3 has a frunk, and the very nature of that frunk is an important lesson we can all benefit from.
This lesson has to do with Tesla’s claim that the Model 3's trunk is the exact right size for an airline carry-on bag.
Front trunks are usually more difficult to design, because there’s more restrictions on the volume at the front of a car than the rear. Even in cars where the front isn’t jam-packed full of hot, oily engine bits, there’s still suspension and steering equipment, windshield wipers and washer pumps, brake fluid reservoirs, often the battery, and so on. There’s still a bunch of stuff that has to get crammed in there.
Plus, a front trunk can’t be as tall as a rear one, because you have to, you know, see over it. So, it’s always a challenge, but I really appreciate it when it’s done well.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it was difficult to do well, as in the case of the Corvair or NSU Prinz or Tatra 603 or Renault 10. Sometimes, it seems like it was torture to wring a usable volume from the space, as in the Fiat 126, and often engineers just give up and don’t even try, like in the Tata Nano or the Subaru 360.
Electric cars are giving front trunks a bit of a rebirth, and on the Tesla Model S, they’ve been very successful. On smaller electric cars, like the BMW i3, while I have to give credit to BMW for providing any storage at all, the actual volume is really pretty damn small, and probably will mostly get used for charger cables and tools and small bags of things you don’t want your friends or family to find.
The new Model 3, though, shows a very different approach to frunking: unlike the Model S or Model X, the smaller Model 3 does not have the volume for a large, multi-purpose frunk. It’s not really big enough to be useful for groceries or full suitcases or anything like that. In fact, it’s already been derided as a ‘glorified glovebox.’
It’s a pretty small trunk, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a useful volume. What’s important here—and our inspirational trunk lesson of today—is how Tesla’s marketing team recast this small space.
What they did was brilliant, I think, and possibly one of the greatest trunk-volume marketing triumphs ever. Whoever was responsible for writing breathless PR copy about the car must have been a bit stymied at how to talk about the frunk. The Model S and X frunks were easy, large enough to stand on their own simple luggage-swallowing merits, but the Model 3 needed something else.
Whoever realized that the trunk volume is about the same as the size restriction for a carry-on bag deserves a raise.
The airlines’ generally agreed-upon volume for a carry-on bag, one that will easily fit in that overhead luggage compartment, isn’t big: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches. It’s usable, but not big. Like the Model 3 frunk.
I don’t think the Model 3 frunk was designed to exactly be the right size for a carry-on bag, I think they just squeezed the most volume they could get in there. I think some smart person realized the similarity, and turned a liability into a feature.
Now it’s not just a small trunk, it’s a tool for letting you be sure you won’t have to check a bag. For a lot of people, that’s a really handy thing, and a hell of a lot better than buying one of those airline bag sizers and keeping it in your laundry room. A lucky coincidence and some clever marketing turned that trunk volume from something that would be hidden at the bottom of a spec sheet into a clever feature Tesla could tout.
That’s why the Model 3 trunk is a marketing triumph: it’s still a small trunk, sure, its use is still limited, absolutely, but that limited use and space was very cleverly tied to a very important other small space, and that turned a small trunk into a very useful tool for many, many people.
So let’s all learn from this trunk, and figure out how to recast our limitations into benefits.
Is there anything trunks can’t teach us?