Do manufacturers abuse the electric symbolism in the design of zero-emission cars?
Full grilles (or no grille), strange color codes, neo-futuristic designs and textures, sometimes characterless lines … The advent of electric cars and their (discreet) invasion into the landscape never ceases to amaze and make people talk.
And not always on the most favorable terms, we have to admit.
Having opened the ball for electromobility twenty years ago, then evolved since by cosmetic touches, the proverbial Toyota Prius is struggling to shed its image of a car with ungrateful physique. As if the hybrid, then the electric were a genre apart for which the manufacturers would be short of inspiration, or reinvention. In short, condemned to be ugly, or in any case of a very particular design, electrics have dragged their curse of ugly ducklings for years.
If Tesla has since defeated this curse, exactly since 2012 and the arrival of the majestic – and still not out of fashion – Model S, and other manufacturers have made efforts to come out with zero-emission models with finally attractive designs, it does not. However, the overhaul of the codes of automotive aesthetics in the face of this new situation sometimes seems to be a bit painful.
It must be said that the manufacturers still have some extenuating circumstances. Because in the automotive industry, even if it is less significant than in other areas, function takes precedence over form. However, in this area, electric motorists are faced with several constraints: ecology, battery life and aerodynamics, and technology.
Ecology, aerodynamics, technology, the triptych that guides design
Regarding ecology, since electric cars are supposed to be more virtuous in terms of respect for the environment (at least when they run, I will not come back to the debate for the rest), it seems logical that they are also in all other choices. This is the case, for example, with Tesla’s famous “vegan” seats, which perfectly imitate leather without actually being leather. Which probably conditions the way they are made, perhaps their design, and… their longevity. Ditto for the “Race-Tex” or “Econyl” seats, made from recycled fibers, of the Porsche Taycan. The inventory doesn’t end there, but it would take too long to build here.
On the subject of aerodynamics, we have known since at least the Citroën CX that this constraint produces “bizarre” cars, which have always divided the community of observers, between those who cry aesthetic genius and those who are on the verge of to throw up their four hours (yes, that car exists). But we will be reassured by telling ourselves that Tesla, with the Model S, and soon with the Roadster 2, Porsche with the Taycan, or even Lucid Motors with the very successful Lucid Air, are finally capable of producing cars as beautiful as they are sleek. by displaying an aerodynamic coefficient among the best in automotive production. Even if the front of the Tesla Model 3 without grille evokes for some a funny face without a mouth in Silent Hill mode (brrr). To which one could argue that this was already the case for the very thermal Porsche 911.
Let’s also not forget that the sometimes somewhat clumsy aspect of some EVs stems from the need to integrate the batteries without compromising too much on habitability. And, to conclude on this point, we often recognize an electric by an infallible detail: its rims, or rather the “aero” covers which sometimes allow up to almost 10% of autonomy. And yes, the devil is in the details, and the equation could be “ugly rims = better radius”. Please don’t type, I know it’s a bit cartoonish. But hey, let’s not lie to each other, the aero rims of the Tesla Model 3 are for me the most hideous thing that the automobile has known in the last fifty years (okay, just between the Citroën Axel and the Fiat Multipla). Here it is, I just made a lot of friends :).
There remains the high-tech side, which has apparently become inseparable from the electric car. Let’s move on to the screens – single or multiple – which now appear in the passenger compartment and seem to have become the norm. For better or for worse, I’ll let you be the judge. However, the technology seems to respond to an injunction to show up wherever it can, although it is not necessarily essential, if not useful. For example, we can wonder about the need to replace the good old mirror mirrors with cameras connected to screens, as is the case on the Audi e-tron or the Honda E. Especially since the aesthetic gain is questionable. But this is also more of an aerodynamic issue that benefits from a technological advance. And we can imagine that new enriched features to come will quickly make these latter essential.
Rush for electrical symbolism
Finally, we sometimes feel that the manufacturers tend to add a little more in the “markers” of the electrical symbolism, even in areas where it is not essential. Thus will we be entitled to bluish versions of the logos, to green edging (or electric blue, necessarily) on the body belts, to particular interior upholstery textures, or to a general design language with no other objective than “Make it modern”, which will make it possible to identify an electric model at first glance, without knowing exactly why, including in a range with a very strong and world-renowned graphic identity. The magic of the subliminal.
With electricity, manufacturers face a gigantic challenge that forces them to totally reinvent themselves, since, before even designing new models, they must first design and deploy the specific platforms on which they will be manufactured. A challenge made both of industrial constraints and of creative freedom, which sometimes translates into a few aesthetic road trips.
But isn’t that the price to pay to show that we innovate?