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business models, strategies and technologies

Electric liberation – classic cars morph into contemporary cool

The early generations of electric cars have been visual clunkers. Is game-changer tech gonna’ be a constraint or a liberation?

Mediocrity maketh motor?

Let’s be honest – the early generations of electric cars have been clunkers. Tesla honourably excepted. Tech progress hasn’t really changed much in the design world.  So is game-changer electric vehicle tech gonna’ continue being a constraint – or could it help provide some dearly-desired design liberation?

Boring …

There may be an uptake in various forms of alternative-fuel vehicles right now, but it’s hardly design-driven (apart from outliers like the quirky VW ID Buzz). Multiple mediocrity is not likely to win converts to the electric cause.

Chaotic confabulation, historical accident

The current glaring lack of design schwung in electric cars is perhaps understandable, because mainstream manufacturers have hitherto just been steadfastly repurposing the familiar shapes, to avoid putting off Joe Public.

Unfortunately, conventional internal combustion engines have gradually become a kaleidoscopic confabulation of different technologies, chaotically cobbled together over a century or so. These pretty much all have to to be bolted on to something solid and metal, wired up and otherwise connected with belts, gears, tubes, struts, solenoids, springs and drive shafts. Again unfortunately, this leaves the front ends of most cars (unless you’re a Porsche perv, of course) as an inaccessible repository of space-constrained mechanical and electrical crowding that’s a servicing nightmare.

And isn’t it a bit weird that the most advanced technology and the most expensive part of your car –  the stuff that provides the whole raison d’être of das auto – is always hidden away and shrouded in acres of visual fakery and naff plastic to prevent you even looking?

“Who knew that the future would arrive so neatly wrapped in the past?”

Legacy redux? Cojones count

What happens to “car” design if these locomotive lumps suddenly become redundant with the advent of beyond-hybrid electric propulsion? If you don’t have to have huge lumps of pumping, exploding, whirring and rotating mechanicals up front, shouldn’t it open up for completely new vistas of design freedom? Could some of the space-age designs of science fiction suddenly become feasible? Well, it seems like the jury is still out on that, tho’ the new Tesla Semi does seem to hint at opportunities for sleekness ad libitum.

But this possible design freedom can also point in different directions. Backwards in time, even? Might removing all these legacy functional relics enable us to re-enjoy classic visual idioms with none of the mechanical worries (providing we’re in range of a charger, of course)? What if freedom from these constraints could give us the nerve to opt for cars we actively want to look at and salivate over – rather than just what we have to accept? Could we dare defy the historical purists and re-visit the design dreams of former days, with modern technology botoxing the practical weaknesses?

Best of two eras?

Here are a few droolworthy examples of how design lines from the past have been beautifully mated with the propulsive opportunities of tidy, flat batteries and small, powerful electric motors. Taking this route to automobile nirvana gives you all the visual verve of classic elegance with none of the über–temperamental mechanicals that

Jaguar E-type Zero – PR photo. See here

often relegate such visual stunners to the access-restricted world of trailer queens (a dimension of automobile enjoyment virtually non-existent here in punitively taxed Denmark!).

Zelectric Beetle see here

The Infiniti Prototype 9 is perhaps particularly interesting in this trio here because it’s not an existing classic with new underpinnings. This thoroughly modern, retro-styled roadster prototype appeared at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance as “a celebration of … ingenuity, artistry and craftsmanship”, as the PR blurb declared. It represents a powerful, credible reimagining of a 1940s race car with modern technologies and manufacturing techniques used to bring the retro design to fruition in a manner compliant with current expectations about usability and reliability.

Infiniti Prototype 9 see here

Openings galore

“Who knew that the future would arrive so neatly wrapped in the past?” Thus did Jason Harper (The Verge) sum it up very eloquently.

Electric propulsion tales up so little real space within any given body shell that it can be a design liberator. Batteries-in-the-bottom, no gearboxes and a small electric motor driving the wheel at each corner provide (relatively) even weight distribution, low down for maximum stability. There seem to be design opportunities galore and an open door for creative discernment.

And it’ll be a whole lot easier to sell me an electric car if it’s drop-dead gorgeous …