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For car designers, EVs provide a blank canvas

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For car designers, EVs provide a blank canvas

Internal combustion engine exiting left stage. Although it provided great transportation and performance adventures for many years, it will no longer play a major role. In its place under the hood, well, little would be.

Ready or not, electric vehicles are taking the wraps off, and most of their mechanical components don’t sit in the place where fossil-fuel engines once performed. Electric motors – much smaller than gasoline engines – are mounted between the wheels. A large transmission no longer takes up passenger space. No drive shaft is needed, thus no tunnels between floors. The rear seat does not need to be installed to provide space for the fuel tank.

The EV’s power source – the battery – is heavy and large but of minimal height. Located within an area protected by the wheels, it serves as part of the chassis – a structural member. Almost all parameters of vehicle packaging have changed.

Seeing a new and fundamentally different platform for building vehicles, designers are rethinking their approach; The sheet metal that adorns gas-passers may be a misfit here.

Dominic Najafi, chief exterior designer for Jaguar, which makes the I-Pace electric sport utility vehicle, said, “Many of us are still headed to petrol, but there’s something exciting about the way cars develop.” “We cherish classic cars, but we welcome the car of the future.”

To make a profit, automakers would have to sell a lot of EVs, and maintaining the two vehicle categories for a long time would seem financially unsound. Although conventional vehicles would be in production for a decade or more, no one interviewed for this article mentioned new designs for the old Guard.

“We have to think about EV design in a slightly different way,” said Bob Boniface, Buick’s global design director. “It’s a more efficient form of transport, so one expects the styling aesthetic to reflect this. Different cooling requirements cause traditional grille sizes to change; aerodynamic equipment and surfacing become more prominent.”

How that translates to the road will be revealed this summer when Buick joins the power rush. Like other new General Motors EVs, it will be modeled on the Altium modular platform.

BMW’s design chief Kai Langer sees electrification as an opportunity for designers. “With the combustion engine, there was a mandatory configuration,” he said. “In this new world, you have different options.”

The size and weight of the battery force it to be kept low and between the wheels, Mr Langer said. This allows for a flat floor. The cowl – a structural element between the engine compartment and the passenger area – can be moved to the front, increasing the interior space.

“There’s really no downside to electrification from a design standpoint,” said Dave Marek, Acura’s executive creative director. He said his design team was focused on how an automobile related to the occupants.

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“Electrification allows you to fully embrace the senses,” said Mr. Marek. “I think the customer expects something electrifying inside. Maybe in the form of mood lighting.”

Audi’s design chief Mark Lichte likes the opportunities offered by electrification. “This has enabled us to design the most attractive Audis ever,” he said, explaining that the short overhang, made possible by the absence of the engine and fuel tank, is an aesthetic advantage. The long wheelbase required to accommodate the battery is attractive, he said, and therefore larger wheels are needed to support the weight of the battery.

“Cars with combustion engines had a different character,” said Mr. Lichte. “They were making noises.”

He added that a traditional automotive derivation is based on the roar of animals and the screams of the combustion engine.

“The styling of ICE cars took inspiration from hunters. The holes needed to breathe; the cars became more aggressive,” he said. “They were so aggressive they became comical characters. It would make no sense to apply that language and philosophy to electric cars.”

Although some EV designers want their vehicles to be seen as fundamentally new and different, with only a nod to the past, Ford sees its electrification mission in a slightly different way than the future its legacy models bring. .

“Our strategy has been to electrify our popular nameplate,” said Chris Walter, design manager for Ford’s Mustang Mach-E. “The understanding is that people don’t want this to look like a science project.”

Yet Mr. Walter agrees that short front overhangs and long wheelbases are preferred by designers, so Ford EV designs that echo the past will take advantage of the opportunity to stretch out its electrics.

Most vintage automakers try to preserve the styling cues that represent their brand. For the Ford and Mustang Mach-E, this is a clear rear hunch. And given the sales success of Ford’s F-150 pickup truck, the electric F-150 Lightning should honor that legacy.

Tesla’s Cybertruck looks like a science project. With triangular styling, coupled with excellent capability, according to the automaker, the truck could help make revolutionary EV styling acceptable – if it ever makes it to the market. Originally slated for early 2020, it has faced several delays.

Some designers look to the past as a design resource but draw boundaries. “Heritage, heritage and pedigree are important,” said Mr. Boniface, “but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go back and make our cars like modern versions of past vehicles. I think it’s our Wrong for the brand. One thing we’ll take from our past is a sense of optimism.”

He continued: “Buick was Harley Earl’s playground in the post-war era. It was the jet age. Buick embraced technology. It embodied forward thinking and optimism about the future. That was the 1950s paradigm. We are still embracing technology and optimism. That is our brand.”

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Audi sought to preserve the single-frame design of its traditional front fascia, but said the look would carry over.

BMW’s designers aim to retain elements of its classic front-end styling as well. Mr Langer said eliminating that look “would be like asking an artist to start drawing people without noses.”

With no history of fossil-fuel vehicles to color its thinking, upstart EV maker Lucid isn’t bound by tradition. The Lucid Air doesn’t even have a hint of a large grille and front air gap like in luxury cars. One can say that it was drawn without a nose.

“Not building a legacy front end is an advantage,” said Derek Jenkins, senior vice president of design and brand for Lucid.

Lucid designers began planning the look of their electric vehicle in 2015. He admitted that his first offering would have to be firmly placed in the luxury segment to justify the sticker price. But the luxury market was characterized by tall hoods and flashy grilles – elements that seemed to contradict EV design.

“How do we create something that has a strong identity, yet looks worthy of the luxury price point? It was a challenge,” said Mr. Jenkins. “Eventually we embraced it. We didn’t have to work around a heritage identity. We saw that as an advantage, an opportunity to create a vehicle that seemed unconventional but not weird.”

Lucid’s team took advantage of the start from a clean sheet. According to Mr. Jenkins, the Lucid Air has the largest “frunk” or forward trunk of any consumer-targeted EV, with its slim battery pack placed as low as possible in a chassis designed for electrics, cars low and low. is smooth.

Range weighs a lot for potential buyers, and a vehicle that can slice effectively through the air can move on a single charge.

“Aerodynamics is a major contributor to range, and if you are going to convince more people to go electric, then it has to be range,” said Mr. Jenkins. (Lucid is a leader, by Miles, on that front.)

Mr Lichte said that once he had chosen three design concepts for the Audi e-tron GT presented by a team of 20 stylists, he asked the winning designers to build quarter-scale models and test them in a wind tunnel. The cleanest aerodynamics of the three went into production.

The result is of course the Audi, which in its lavish Touring sheet metal and luxurious electronic interior boasts about traditional forms and features, but is revolutionary in its power and efficiency. The touchstones to which our cars are most likely to be designed.

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