Styling Electric Vehicles- Cautious Similarities vs Bold Differentiators

There’s no doubt that electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way in terms of design and practicality since the debut of the “smart car” back in the late 1990s. Designers have been challenged to do more with less, including using lighter materials, designing smaller bodies, and incorporating the electric nature of the vehicle into its overall look and feel. The past 20 years have been influenced by the evolution of technology, feedback from early-user experiences, and design trends from the automotive industry at large.

Today there are more EVs on the market than ever before. With Tesla leading the way in the luxury/performance car sector, other makers have followed suit, adding EVs into their lineup. Tesla has managed to design beautiful vehicles that provide a high-performance ride, but they come at hefty price. The Model 3 offers a more palatable price-point, but delays in production have kept a lid on adoption.


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The BMW i3/i5 selection is another example of an early leader in the EV space. Their design was anything but ordinary. With the frozen blue and gray accents, funky shapes to allow adequate interior space with minimal footprint, and yet 19 and 20-inch wheels.


Image Source: Wikimedia

These designs are unique, intended to stand out and give the obvious appearance of “electric”. Designers were intentional about maintaining the iconic kidney bean “grills” for these EVs and the finishes you’d expect from a BMW.

Other examples include the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf and even Honda Clarity. These are more akin to the typical expectation of an EV. Small, compact design, with practicality at the forefront and basic features and finishes.

Now we see most other makers coming to the table… Porsche, Audi, Volvo, Toyota, and others are showing concept EVs that are equal parts eye-grabbing as they are economical and efficient. These concepts are more appealing than what we’ve come to expect of the typical EVs on the road today. The best of both worlds on display. 2020 will be an interesting year for the EV market, and the time is now for designers to refine their work and advance into production.

EV users are demanding longer ranges, more familiar feels, and simply attractive rides. Designers are no longer taking existing models and making subtle adjustments and enhancements. They are tasked with creating entirely new works of art that lend themselves to the application of A-to-B commutes, carrying families and cargo, and competing with traditional gas-powered vehicles that continue to flood the streets today.

This is no easy task, so you see a balance between similar designs for a smooth transition from traditional styles to modernized and contemporary styles more aligned with the electric vibe. Many makers have been transitioning from hybrid plug-ins, where they are not solely battery-powered but have a supplemental gas-powered engine. A good example of this is the Toyota Prius.

Toyota Prius 2016

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The aesthetic differences between the hybrid and the plug-in hybrid are minimal.

Another example is the Chevy Volt vs. the Chevy Bolt. Very Similar design, the lightning bolt the main “tell” that you’re looking at a true EV.

Or the Nissan IMX is a new concept, and yet it doesn’t command that same sense of awe and newness.


Image Source: Wikimedia

The Honda Sport EV and Urban EV are examples of something new and different. Not resembling the Civic or Accord, or even the Fit, these concepts are fresh and indicative of the way EVs are expected to look.

The question now is… will EVs transform the typical style? Or will they forever be trying to fit into the conventional world of automotive design? Time will tell.

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