With no internal combustion engine and fuel tank to work around, automakers are free to get creative with EV design
Automobile design has evolved over the decades. One look at an old Ford Pinto will make that painfully clear. But there have always been some limitations, given the nature of internal combustion engines and gas tanks. They pretty much have to be in the same places on the body of the car, which constrains design creativity. But as batteries steadily replace internal combustion, the new era in automobiles lends EV design a lot more flexibility. To be sure, you still have to find somewhere to put a 1,000-pound battery, and there are safety standards to meet, but automakers are getting more creative.
Luxury & Elegance
The most famous – and polarizing – EV design might be Tesla’s Cybertruck, but there are other automakers aiming for something more sleek. Italian luxury startup AEHRA endeavors to combine the “elegance of Italian design” with “American customer service” to create a car that is “as beautiful as it is functional.” Its SUV, which is slated to go on sale for model year 2025, aims to set standards for modern design and rewrite the rulebook.
Chief design officer Filippo Perini’s vision includes curvaceous flowing lines that are aerodynamic and elegantly futuristic, with short front and rear overhangs, mirrors inspired by racing motorbikes, and “elytra-like doors.” AEHRA says the SUV will also be large enough to accommodate four full-size NBA players, though we’re not sure whether that extends to Boban Marjanović.
“With the AEHRA SUV, we have shunned the conservative constraints that have encumbered all other car manufacturers in their approach to designing EV vehicles to date. Instead, we have taken a highly courageous approach. And at AEHRA, this mindset drives not just the design of our vehicles, but every aspect, including engineering, the layout of the interior, the state-of-the-art sustainable materials we use and how we are redefining the entire customer journey,” Perini said.
Established luxury automakers have also taken EV design to a new level. The Rolls-Royce Spectre reimagines the brand’s iconic Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, brings back split headlights from an earlier era, and features a large illuminated grill. As Rolls-Royce aims to be fully electric by 2030, “the world’s first ultra-luxury electric sports coupe is going where no one else has ventured,” the company states.
Revolutionary, Not Evolutionary
By 2030, a quarter of new cars will be fully electric, and about 60% will have some electrification, be they hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath says the competition is quickly changing car design.
“When approaching design for this new era, automakers must introduce revolutionary cars, not evolutionary cars,” he wrote on CNN Business.
The company’s Polestar 2 puts the batteries on top of each other where the transmission tunnel would be on a gas-powered vehicle, leaving more room in the backseat. It also boasts LED front fog lights with cornering function, a panoramic roof, and frameless mirrors.
The new look for EV design “will be more aerodynamic and futuristic,” Ingenlath wrote. “These cars will need less front air intake and won’t need a grill on the front at all, since there is less need for airflow to cool the engine, and the designs will be more efficient in a quest to preserve battery life. There will be fewer big SUVs and more crossovers, sedans, and fastbacks.”
With investors taking interest in burgeoning markets in the U.S., Europe, and China, EV startups abound. The more there are, the more varied EV designs there are. Not all are as radical as the three-wheeled solar-powered Aptera, but the days of indistinguishable cookie-cutter sedan designs are in the rearview mirror.
For established automakers, design changes are going hand-in-hand with culture changes as they embrace new partners in redesigned supply chains and reskill workers who are taking on new roles in revamped assembly lines. Some are concerned their jobs will be eliminated.
“We believe the transition to electric vehicles will happen, but it must not happen at the expense of current members making (internal combustion engine) vehicles,” UAW president Ray Curry said in a statement. “The transition to EVs will not happen overnight. We are at a moment where we can change the supply chain model for the next generation of vehicles to have more parts built here with good union wages.”
On the Interior
If there are fewer assembly line workers, there will be more software engineers in EV plants. That’s because the EV revolution is also coming in the digital age, when the Internet of Things means the Internet of Just About Everything. EV design changes are not limited to the exterior of the cars.
“In the interior, the screen and voice control become the main concerns, due to strong demand for connectivity,” Ingenlath wrote. “Gone are so many of the gauges needed to monitor a gasoline engine. The idea of a driver’s interior as a pilot’s cockpit with hundreds of switches and buttons is gone. More important to the consumer is the screen and the technology it offers. Brand expression will primarily come through user experience and digital design and less through the interior materials.”
GM employs at least 10,000 software workers, Vox reported, with more than 500 dedicated to cybersecurity.
Touch screens are the brains of the operation in interior EV design, and they keep getting larger. In the U.S., nearly 25% of cars and light trucks have touch screens that span 11 inches or more, according to S&P Global Mobility. The Lucid Air’s cockpit display is 34 inches.
Regulatory bodies might crack down on touch screen size as a safety issue, which could make voice control and augmented reality windshield displays more prevalent. The way things are going in EV design, interiors will look a lot more like the future than the past.