Future is electric
ELECTRIC cars will change the face of motoring in less than a decade. Removing the chunky combustion engine and transmission package will allow designers and engineers far more freedom, allowing them to move away from three-box designsof mechanicals in one package, people in the second and luggage in the third.
Battery packs shaped like giant skateboards will allow the body to sit on top, opening up new styling opporutnities, according to three of the world’s leading designers.
“There will be more change in the next 10 years than there has been in the past 50,” says Jaguar’s Ian Callum.
“I believe the timeline of change will continue to be very aggressive, perhaps more than Ian has suggested,” says Australian Mike Simcoe, the head of GM global design.
And Mazda chief designer Ikuo Maeda says, “The powertrain gets small. This is the reason why we have more freedom from a design perspective.”
BMW has already given the world its odd-looking i3 city car and the smooth i8 supercar at its electric i-car division and VW is going big with a range of futuristic electric models — including a born-again Kombi concept — using green power in part to rebuild its tattered image following the global “Dieselgate” emissions scandal.
Another big sign of the design revolution is the Jaguar I-Pace, an all-electric SUV that was unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show and shatters the picture of boxy family wagons.
GM has also developed its baby battery-powered Bolt into an award-winner and Mazda is moving on a new generation of hybrids and electric cars.
Jaguar’s Callum says, “We are moving to the next generation of design. I believe a car can be more than a mass of metal. I want to turn it into a living thing.”
He is helping to drive the I-Pace project towards confirmed sales before the end of 2018 and believes design will be vital for differentiating nextgeneration cars and companies. “It surprises me that some designers have not seen this opportunity. I see electric cars that look like internal combustion cars and I don’t understand,” Callum says.
“I do believe it’s going to change because the whole structure of the car is changing. There are going to be autonomous cars, new infotainment and connectivity. It will happen in the space of the next 10 years, and it will happen dramatically.”
Callum can even joke about the one thing that’s definitely not going to change.
“Until we have eyes in our feet the windows will still be at the top,” he laughs.
For Simcoe, who left Australia last year to take on the biggest design job at GM in Detroit, the changes in cars are a huge opportunity.
“The big change is not coming, it is here now. Electrification, as well as other propulsion systems, new materials and autonomous capability, mean there will be even greater opportunity for designers,” he says.
“A simple example: if some of our customers no longer actively drive the vehicle, their experience and interaction with it will be completely different.
“Designers will have to create totally different types of experiences to engage people and still communicate the character for each of our brands.
“Even before we started to embrace these new opportunities the market has been changing. The move from traditional cars to SUVs and now crossovers has demonstrated how quickly this can happen.”
For Maeda, autonomous cars are a total unknown because engineers at companies such as Google and Apple do not have an automotive background.
“They have completely different thinking to the car companies. So we might see completely different things,” he says.
“I think all the brands are looking at electric vehicles. I think all the car brands have to explore.”
But the Japanese designer says cars will still have to look good: “We really care about authentic beauty. We hope this will stay as we change to electric cars.
“SUV is the trend leader. I think it’s difficult to make a beautiful SUV.
“You always end up with similar vehicles if you want to develop an SUV.
“But still we want to show our characteristics so we have a lot of challenges.”
Maeda is critical of what he describes as the “cartoon” styling emerging at some brands but Simcoe is happy to see new trends emerge.
“Of course there will be new vehicle types based on the new designs we create,” he says.
“That same designer probably complained that in the past things were boring because no one was daring enough to different.
“My response is, ‘Grow up, worry about the designs you own.’ I do find some of what is being created now is laughable but why would it upset me?
“To each his own, and frankly every design group has a skeleton or two in their past.”
Next-generation: Jaguar I-Pace, main and above, and chief designer Ian Callum, below; centre, Chevrolet Bolt and GM design boss Mike Simcoe; bottom, BMW i3 and i8