EV Design 101: Six Features of an Emerging Identity

As electric propulsion conquers the mainstream market, its particular design requirements become more easily noticeable

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First released in 1997, the Toyota Prius took hybrid propulsion to popular culture and helped EVs prosper as a whole
The modern-day Fiat 500 reaches the second generation combining evolutionary design with state-of-the-art electric propulsion

What to do with the front grille?

Let’s start addressing the elephant in the room: the part is vital for IC engines, so it became a pillar of car design. Now that we have models which don’t need it, makers were lost at first: some removed it altogether and made the car look weird, while others applied fake ones to make customer reception a tad more predictable but wasted a world of new possibilities. As of now, the all-new Fiat 500 depicted above is a good example of how makers are finally learning not to depend so much on front grilles.

With such a large silver panel, everyone will notice you’re not driving an ICE car

Shaped by the wind

While obeying the laws of aerodynamics benefits every car, that becomes even more important for EVs because they shouldn’t rely on bigger motors to obtain desirable performance figures with subpar external design — that’d go against their entire raison d’être. As a result, most of them sport a good old Kammback simply to waste less energy on aerodynamic drag. If you’re not a fan, you can still pick the electric version of a traditional model, which was initially created for internal combustion engines.

The proportions might look strange, but many of the coupé’s features are there

Speaking of aerodynamics…

EVs will apply every possible resource to offer the same capabilities using less energy. While traditional wheels can do wonders to a car’s appearance, open spokes work like fans, wasting energy by deviating the air flow. Most EVs have wheel models with thicker or more numerous spokes than usual to reduce the open area. Many of the first ones were rather ugly, but that’s one more case of waiting for companies to finish the learning curve: it’s finally figuring out how to combine beauty and efficiency.

It isn’t intuitive to think of wheel design as important for fuel efficiency, huh?

Let’s boast that efficient motion!

Design changes in ways that allow us to pinpoint some trends for each decade. Cars were flamboyant and expansive in the 1950s, downsized and modest in the 1980s, futuristic in the 1990s… Now, the ever-increasing efforts towards performance as a whole have put movement en vogue. Many EVs use elements with smooth, organic shapes which aren’t limited to one side of the body; they actually integrate all of them, making the whole design very complex but also light and nimble from every angle.

Renault facelifted the Zoe for 2019 with an evolution of its dynamic design

The car of the future… now!

In today’s world, of course it’s not enough to merely do something; we need to show it. EVs have always been flashy, but so far in ways which made them just too weird. Only recently have companies learned how to make them desirable for more than their mileage and how to show it: several models could easily replace their ICE counterparts without making the owner feel they’re missing out on something. That includes working on their advertisement, color palette and even their use of logotypes.

The DS division is standing out as a futuristic take on the luxury segment

Jetson-like dashboards

Digital gauges were all the rage in the 1980s, especially with flashy colors like videogame interfaces. Now, we’re living the age of large, ultra-high-definition screens that work like a tablet and give easy access to a surprising quantity of functions — in general, EV dashboards have much fewer physical buttons and knobs than usual because that setting makes the whole room more futuristic and lighter, two characteristics they cherish so much. This blog has discussed the topic on this story.

The brand new Mercedes-Benz EQC was born with the nem MBUX system
The all-new Peugeot 208 uses fully electric propulsion on the performance-oriented GT version

What to expect from now on?

Further evolution on what’s already being done. Establishing a strong design identity gives people a sense of stability; EVs are no longer experiments which could be removed at any moment and leave their owners with a nightmare to service and resell. Now, we’re moving towards a positive circle: the industry is making them better as a whole, so customers are feeling more confident to try buying them at least once.

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.