Editor’s Note: Thomas Ingenlath is CEO of Polestar. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
As automakers race to electrify their model lineups, the competition to stand out has never been greater. Luckily, thanks to electrification, the opportunities to develop new designs are abundant. But if automakers want to succeed, designers need to seize these new opportunities and start developing the cars of the future.
Car companies have followed the same evolutionary design path for decades. Now, with electric cars, everything is changing quickly.
Without an internal combustion engine and a fuel tank, there are new design possibilities to explore. In most passenger vehicles, there is a large engine under the front hood and a fuel tank that takes up space somewhere under the vehicle. While there is, of course, a need for battery and electric motor placement in EVs, designers are not locked into this traditional framework and are able to package the batteries and motors differently.
When approaching design for this new era, automakers must introduce revolutionary cars, not evolutionary cars.
Automakers have a history of trying to make their electric cars “look like an EV.” For some reason, many thought an electric car needed to look “different” — and the result was often ugly. Historically, both the media and the general public have expressed distaste for electric car designs that stood out because they were electric, as opposed to just being a well-designed vehicle.
Recently, other brands have come along and proven that what people wanted in an electric car was good design without this niche “electric car” flare. There are several premium car brands right now achieving success with classic car designs for their electric models.
But this new look will be more aerodynamic and futuristic. These cars will need less front air intake and won’t need a grill on the front at all, since there is less need for airflow to cool the engine, and the designs will be more efficient in a quest to preserve battery life. There will be fewer big SUVs and more crossovers, sedans and fastbacks. But amongst all of this exterior adaptation, the interior of the car must also evolve.
In the interior, the screen and voice control become the main concerns, due to strong demand for connectivity. Gone are so many of the gauges needed to monitor a gasoline engine. The idea of a driver’s interior as a pilot’s cockpit with hundreds of switches and buttons is gone. More important to the consumer is the screen and the technology it offers. Brand expression will primarily come through user experience and digital design and less through the interior materials.
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Changes in electric cars will change purchase habits by further emphasizing user experience. So many vehicles are currently sold to buyers who value engine size, cylinder count or transmission type. With an electric motor, a vehicle’s power becomes a commodity instead of a key product feature.
Lastly, we arrive at the external factors, most notably governmental crash standards, general vehicle legislation and other laws. While these standards must of course be followed, there is still potential for new exterior. Let’s spur the creativity of our EV engineers to develop new ways to arrange batteries, like we did in the design of our Polestar 2. We took a building-block approach and stacked the batteries to leave more footwell room in the backseat, and the place where the transmission tunnel usually goes now houses batteries. We can design innovative electric motors and devise revolutionary integration of technology within automobiles that would not be possible in traditional vehicle design.
Innovating in the electric vehicle space will require shorter-term product planning and the ability to pivot when it comes to product design and manufacturing, despite the industrial complications of doing so. China’s auto companies have done a great job here — they work fast with short-term planning. Long-established car companies will need to learn to adapt and develop products faster than they currently are in order to keep up.
The electric revolution is here, and the possibilities for new automotive design are many. Let’s make this the remarkable new era in car design it deserves to be.