Why do electric cars look so different?

    EVs are, in my opinion, a long-needed breakthrough in car design.

    1w ago


    If you've been into cars for quite a while, you might have noticed a bit of stagnancy in terms of car design in general. Many vehicles from the same segment look so similar that if you were to swap badges on some of the models, I (and probably some of you) wouldn't even notice. Just like that clip from Top Gear, when James May jokingly mistakes Mitsubishi Outlander for a Volkswagen Tiguan (it's S20 E5 if you don't know what I'm on about).

    However, there is a glimmer of hope. Electric cars, especially those built from scratch, on completely new platforms, bring a much needed breath of fresh air to car design. They often come in a vibrant colour, with an original but good-looking set of rims and a minimalistic interior. But why are electric cars so distinguishable from petrol-powered ones?

    BMW i3 - there is no mistaking it for any other BMW. I personally like it

    BMW i3 - there is no mistaking it for any other BMW. I personally like it

    Because they can!

    Electric cars look so different because they've given their designers a completely new set of possibilities and challenges. One of the biggest advantages of an EV over a conventional vehicle is its simplicity. Electric cars don't require advance cooling systems, complex exhausts with a lot of emission reduction techniques or even a propeller shaft, as you can put a motor directly next to a vehicle's wheel. As a result, they don't need so much space dedicated for powertrain components.

    This means EVs don't need massive radiator grilles on a front. Designers have a lot more to say when it comes to proportions, as EVs don't require big engine compartments. They can have a flat floor in the back, without that irritating bulge in the middle, as they don't need to fit an exhaust system. Centre consoles can be tinier as well, giving way more space for passengers and storage compartments. But the differences aren't caused solely by technical stuff.

    VW ID.3 - it's good-looking, it's quirky, I love it!

    VW ID.3 - it's good-looking, it's quirky, I love it!

    Signifying change

    EVs are something new, something fresh. They are a huge change in car design and manufacturers want to show that. Making interiors out of environmentally sound materials, using a plethora of lively colours and changing the general styling is, in my opinion, supposed to appeal to younger generations of buyers. Even the use of large screens and smartphone-like controls in the interior instead of buttons attracts millennials rather than baby boomers.

    However, leaving out old folks is a reasonable strategy when it comes to EVs, as more often than not they prefer conventional powertrains. Some manufacturers are willing to make such sacrifice, as this can help them survive in the future. Cars nowadays are blamed (somewhat deservedly) for global warming, which makes them unpopular in the eyes of many. To solve this issue, manufacturers are trying their best to change the image and public perception of automobiles. And EVs are just the best way to do it.

    Porsche Taycan - more reserved in terms of design, it looks a lot like Panamera's more successful brother (probably thanks to those gorgeous headlights)

    Porsche Taycan - more reserved in terms of design, it looks a lot like Panamera's more successful brother (probably thanks to those gorgeous headlights)

    Not everyone is into that

    However, that is just one way to go about it. Many manufacturers are much more reserved when it comes to the design of EVs. Porsche Taycan, apart from its headlights, is almost indistinguishable from a Panamera for an untrained eye. Jaguar I-Pace looks like a regular, petrol car, not a groundbreaking design with 62 (yes, 62!) international awards. Mercedes EQC has an outline of a radiator grill even though it doesn't have any holes in it and it doesn't technically need one.

    But this just a different strategy. These manufacturers aren't trying to steal hearts of millennials with a revised, more eco-friendly design and cutting-edge technology. Instead, they are trying to show people that EVs aren't strange, that they are just like any other car, only better in almost every single aspect. And whilst such approach might have its advantages, I certainly prefer what VW has done with their ID.3 model.

    This is because new conventional cars are a bit boring. They all look similar, have similar features and cost about the same. On the other hand, EVs built on all-new platforms are something fresh and innovative and their design should reflect that. There is a lot more room to experiment and develop, which is way more exciting than yet another conventional car created using a same recipe with little to no adjustments.

    I hope you enjoyed this slightly subjective article. If you did, you can leave a like and read my other pieces. Till next time!

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    Comments (8)

    • EVs, as you say, have different design criteria. They are best when designed for efficiency, not fashion. There is less power on board than an ICE vehicle and thus less room to waste it. ICE vehicles are about 30% efficient, which is why there's plenty of spare energy to heat the interior, cool the brakes and ignore aerodynamics. An EVs range can be significantly increased by using aerodynamic wheel trims and taller section tyres for example. They claw back every Joule of energy they can by regenerative braking, which is why the brakes barely ever wear out at all. Because all the energy is devoted to motion, very little needs to be burnt off as heat, and radiators are pretty much not necessary. Even the way they fit together and where the bits can be put is a whole different jigsaw. Oddly, every generation of cars from the dawn of motoring, has been criticised for all looking the same (with very few notable exceptions), so even though today's cars all look like shiny Christmas paper screwed into a ball, whoever comes up with a novel take on car design will be slavishly copied by everyone else... until the next time. Tesla's success has been in stripping a car back to its bare essentials. An EV must be aerodynamic, so that's what they are. Only the most subtle of actual styling is added to the optimal aerodynamic form. The entire range all use the same seats. The controls are largely run off an iPad thing, stuck to a plank of wood. I expect that with Full Self Driving, the steering wheel pedals and stalks can be unscrewed and put in the loft. It is one of the reasons that Tesla makes such an astonishing profit on each vehicle. They earn 20%, while most cars make 3% or nothing at all (at the moment). It is why Tesla has gone from zero to hero in about 12 years and now is in the top ten most valuable companies on the planet and has just joined the S&P500. Other manufacturers are very much on the catch up. The new, EV only start-ups are surging ahead, not least because they know what making an EV is all about. Legacy manufacturers are still terribly hamstrung by their manufacturing processes, in-house technical skillsets, factory setups, pension plans, workforce skillsets, distribution setup and so on and so forth. Unless they can change, and change VERY fast, they are done for. Car design, what you and I see and what decides us upon buying a thing, depends so much upon the possible, balanced against the imagination. I think car interiors are going to go through the biggest revolution now that aerodynamics will leave so much of the exterior looking like an aeroplane. For my own part, I'd like to sit in sybaritic luxury with a machine to make a decent tea or coffee on hand, a decent interactive entertainment system and perhaps a fridge that some little autobot can keep topped up with snacks wherever I park. I'm sure we can all think of things we might like (on-board toilet, curtains for privacy?)

        7 days ago
      • Wow, that was quite a read, and a very good one indeed! This essentialism is what fascinates me about EVs, it is absolutely terrific and innovative. I don't know what else to say, you've written such a logical and well-composed comment that...

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          6 days ago
    • As a petrol head the only electric car that looks great is the Porsche Taycan. The thing is , it really is a head turner. The rest, no one really gives a shit about. I know it’s down to personal preference, but in the car shows of the future I think you’ll find the crowds around the Porsche and not you id3’s or your Tesla’s.

        3 days ago
      • Yeah, Taycan is a certainly a looker. But it's also way more expensive, so it has to pop to find buyers. I personally like the novelty and freshness of Tesla's and VW's approach to design of EVs and the fact that they've made regular cars look...

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          3 days ago
    • You sure are right. I am so grateful for the new born interest electrification has brought to car design.

        3 days ago
    • Show yourself out. 😁

        3 days ago
    • Optimized for better drag coefficient, simplify and allude a sense of lightness.

        7 days ago


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