The next time you see an electric vehicle (EV) coming toward you on the street, spare a thought for the marvel of design that it is.
At first glance, you may not think that it looks radically different from conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars you’re used to, but take a closer look at the front end, under the hood, or take a peek inside, and you may well be surprised to find how electrification-led design has revolutionized the common car.
Electrification-led design is more human-centered, responding more closely to consumer needs. Connectivity transforms the car from a mere mode of transportation to something that is alive and communicating with electricity, the environment, and the outside world.
Electrification is transforming car design and the future of mobility across six key areas: aesthetics and style, performance and drivability, and comfort and connectivity.
Aesthetics and Style
Think about what you want from a car. Like most people, once the cost is factored in, you probably want something that looks good, something that you can be proud to park on your front lawn in full view of the neighbors.
When designers first started designing EVs, they tried to make EVs look different from ICE cars.
Stylistically, the results invariably lacked aspirational image appeal.
Forward 20 years or so and some of the most beautiful cars in the world are EVs. This transformation has been informed by two countervailing factors: the unique requirements of new energy structures and overcoming the design limitations inherent in ICE-powered vehicles.
ICE car design has been constrained by the need for an engine, fuel tank, radiator, exhaust pipes, gearbox, oil systems, and central differential and driveshaft amongst other mechanical necessities required by internal combustion engines.
EVs, in contrast, have less need for air cooling so they can dispense with the grille, and have no emissions so they do not require exhaust pipes. With fewer moving parts, EV designers were able to experiment with shape and look, as well as to parlay the formerly-cluttered engine bay into more internal room for driver and passenger comfort or increased luggage space when compared with ICE vehicles. All this without having to increase the overall dimensions of the car.
Electrification is also driving new design trends in vehicle color and trim. Blue, for example, has become the default interior display color for many EVs, symbolic of the car’s electrification and electronic devices.
Electrification, of course, doesn’t just refer to the powertrain.
EVs are chock-full of electrics integrated into the build of the car. For example, plastic composites can be digitized or be embedded with lighting and sensors, allowing surfaces to respond to touch, change color or transmit information in response to the environment.
Additionally, lightweight transparent or translucent polycarbonate materials allow for more freedom in structural design and further distinguish EV design from conventional cars.
Performance and Drivability
Electrification has upended traditional car design both in terms of form and function.
Electric motors, being more efficient, are designed smaller and more compact than internal combustion engines and they don’t have to be exclusively located under the hood, or in a rear compartment.
A key consumer appeal of an EV is down to how they can now be designed for superior performance and drivability. With no need for a gearbox and strategically-placed noiseless motors, EVs deliver silent, smooth, instant torque and low center of gravity for exhilarating driving pleasure.
In an EV this level of performance is available to all brands and models at all price points whether luxury, premium or mainstream.
In effect, electrification has democratized performance design in automobiles.
Interior Comfort and Connectivity
Conventional ICE cars have increasingly become more wired and connected. They are not, however, designed from that starting point.
But EVS are.
EVs are not designed around an engine. Rather, they are increasingly designed more like mobile user experience vehicles, where there is a complex balance of consumer connectivity incorporating smart sensors, advanced driver-assist technologies, and control functionality of the vehicle.
Correspondingly the interior of EVs is emerging as an area where electrification has had one of its greatest impacts on design. EVs are designed with more space and legroom, increasingly with instrumentation replaced by screens that relay bumper-fed data, location and proximity co-ordinates for collision avoidance, as well as function as centers of productivity or entertainment.
A New Era of Design
Electrification has ushered in a new era in mobility design impacting not only style and aesthetics but also performance, comfort, and functionality, enabling design freedom previously curtailed by the limitations of internal combustion engines and the need to design around them.
As a result, the automobile will never be the same again as it undergoes successive transformations.
In the process, electrification-led design is not only changing the way cars look but changing how we look at cars.