Peter Stevens has asked if electric cars need a new form language. His contention is that at present they either look conventional like the Tesla, or have “a strange self-righteous appearance”. What else does he say?
Stevens’ article first appeared at www.formtrends.com but is also republished at Car Design News. In the article he makes the claim that while electric power might suit buses and van-like vehicles, the format presents too many conflicting requirements to work well:
“The batteries are huge and heavy and like to sit together like school friends; they become very inefficient if they are spread around the car so rather than liberating the designer they restrict new possibilities for vehicle architecture.”
I find this rather surprising. For one thing, petrol and diesel engines also place demands on the vehicle architecture due to their bulk and weight. They also need a fuel store to be secreted somewhere in the vehicle, usually at the rear, inside the axle line.
As a quondam designer I’d argue that design requirements are the grist of the designer’s mill. And conventional cars have not been short of interest despite the various needs they must satisfy. My real worry is that electric power storage is so flexible that it removes the satisfaction that comes of having to solve an aesthetic and technical challenge. Think toasters: a shapeless standard mechanism enclosed in a meaningless plastic casing. No, my feeling is that if electric cars are to be interesting as design objects a few hard challenges can only help.
Stevens asks: “We know that an electric vehicle needs to be 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?” While it’s a conventional petrol car, the Suzuki Regina concept shows how aerodynamics and efficiency can produce novel and appealing design solutions.
Honda’s recent FCV is also commendably true to its power source while still looking very good indeed. And I’d argue the Nissan Leaf strikes an acceptable balance between understandable forms and an appropriate spaciness. It even has blue lights. Peter Stevens is undoubtedly an experienced and competent designer but his worries appear to me to be unfounded.