Do Electric Cars Need A New Design Language?

You still need cooling but not a big radiator at the front. But that radiator opening is seen as part of the ‘brand’ so has to stay in some form. A company like Audi turns the grille into a facsimile of an old electric fire, hoping to imply ‘look at me, I’m electric’. Same goes for the wheels, they are usually very complex and fussy looking designs, again trying to suggest clichéd modernity rather than efficiency. Add some blue lighting somewhere and the marketing story is complete.

Tesla’s first car, the roadster, was simply an electric Lotus Elise in a sad new suit, but the ‘Model S’ is a very decent if conventional piece of professional design; the fact that it is an excellent car says all that a customer needs to know without resorting to gimmicks. The monstrous and short lived Fisker Karma always looked as if an elephant had sat on the cowl just ahead of the windscreen, and a look at the vehicle weight suggest the elephant them climbed into the luggage space.

And then there is the Renault Twizy; small, charming, maybe a little too busy in its detailing but still a very fresh piece of design that is desirable but inexpensive. The Twizy is one of those products that I want to see succeed, but I worry that, like the original Audi A2, it may be too early for popular tastes, let’s hope not.

Maybe this need for differentiating the power source is irrelevant and even designers are sucked in by marketing hype and persuaded to invent an irrelevant new sales language.

We know that an electric vehicle needs to very efficient in terms of weight, low aerodynamic drag, low rolling resistance and carefully managed energy use; but shouldn’t all cars be like that?

The petrol-engined car really should not be overweight and inefficient just because the fuel is still cheap, and the electric car should not present a strange self-righteous appearance just because that is what the marketing people demand.

Toyota’s hydrogen powered FCV concept suggests that the energy source brings with it a brutal, ugly and offensive aesthetic that is to be avoided by both mankind and penguins!

The modern motorcar should have a beauty that celebrates its efficiency.

About Peter Stevens
Peter Stevens is a world-renowned vehicle designer and former Visiting Professor of Vehicle Design at the Royal College of Art in London. Over the course of his career, he’s been chief designer at Lotus Cars, McLaren and Lamborghini and design director for MG, Mahindra and Mahindra and Rivian Automotive. He’s also worked as a design consultant for Prodrive, BMW, Williams and Toyota. You can catch up with his antics on his Facebook page and his new website.


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