Since a electric car is a computer on wheels, this article by Alistair Charlton posits that all electric cars will look the same (for much the same reason that all laptops and all tablet PCs look the same): “The future of car design is all about skateboards and top hats. The former refers to the flat, often self-supporting chassis of an electric vehicle, housing a large battery pack in the middle and motors at either end, along with the suspension, brakes and wheels. Upon this sits the top hat, which is car designer-speak for the body and interior of a vehicle.
With far fewer moving parts than an internal combustion engine, the battery pack and motors sat in this skateboard chassis perform in a near-universal way, no matter which manufacturer the vehicle comes from.”
Leaving aside the superficial issue of how these cars will look, the homogeneity of the contents of an electric car has important implications for the car construction process and the supply-chain behind it: “…in a not-so-distant future, car manufacturers could well buy these electric skateboard chassis from a third party, like how Dell or HP source processors from Intel, then attach its own body, or top hat. “We are positioning to be the ‘Intel Inside’ for EV,” says Daniel Barel, CEO of Ree Automotive, an electric vehicle platform startup. “What we bring is a blank canvas… any shape [of vehicle], any size, any weight, any kind of body technology and autonomy.””
And just as the boring, unglamorous, boxy look of all PCs created an opportunity for Apple to give us PCs with superior aesthetics, 15 years out the electric car industry could also evolve around aesthetics rather than the performance of the car: “So what happens in 2035, when the sale of new internal combustion cars in the UK is to be outlawed? Unless there is an explosion in electric motor diversity between now and then, bold new design and a renewed emphasis on brand identity through aesthetics, rather than drivetrain character, will take centre stage. Car brands that used to rely on engineering superiority will no longer have such an advantage. Simply put, the car’s power plant will no longer be the key battle ground.
“It’s a designer’s dream, really,” says Mark Stubbs, design director at Radford and alumnus of Bugatti, Lotus, Ford and Lego. “Everyone is going to be using a similar, if not the same, skateboard chassis, so there’s very little differentiation. Trying to leverage these skateboards gives us the freedom as designers to push the boundaries and create unique proportions and shapes.””
Before ambitious Indian parents rush to send their equally ambitious wards to design school, it is worth remembering that whilst the Apple analogy for electric cars evokes glamour and big bucks, there is a less glamorous analogy which can be used to describe how electric cars will evolve – white goods. Just as it has proved very difficult for any white goods company to create a radically better looking (or better functioning) fridge or washing machine than its rivals, it could well be that competition leads the car industry in the same direction. So 120 years after Henry Ford launched the Model T-Ford (which, famously, could be any colour as long as it was black), we could be heading in that direction once again as our cars become a little more than a big PC on wheels.
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