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Jan 11, 2012

Standard, Showy or Fit: What do Consumers Want from an EV?


According to The New York Times, the electric cars on display in Detroit are adopting one of two overriding design philosophies: make it exciting, or make it familiar.

The article posits that certain analysts foresee a time when car buyers will pick from similar-looking cars that offer various types of electric, hybrid and conventional powertrains—much as shoppers now choose among 4-, 6- or 8-cylinder engines.

Ford’s electric Focus Image credit: Ford Motor

In contrast, other automakers are taking the approach to make EVs look altogether different, offering drivers a way to publicly display their commitment to the environment or to their tech-savvy persona.

Take the auto show’s photo tour, and you’ll see what they mean. Volkswagen has taken the “familiar” route with its new electric Jetta—while the Nissan e-NV200 Concept boasts an all-electric drivetrain, but a far from familiar look.

The Nissan eNV200 Concept Image from rumors.automobilemag.com

What About Making it Light?

What is largely missing is what RMI suggests should be the most important design philosophy: making cars light.

Tackling vehicle fitness—cutting out weight, aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance—offers an enormous opportunity to not just boost fuel economy, but move our transportation system off oil altogether.

As outlined in Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire, the U.S. transportation sector can be oil-free by 2050 by improving the way our vehicles are designed, powered and used. The first step: make our vehicles lighter and fitter.

While many vehicles at the Detroit show are lighter than previous similar models, such as the Cadillac ATS or the Toyota Prius C, the weight reductions are largely incremental, accomplished by making the vehicle smaller and using lightweight aluminum, rather than revolutionary carbon fiber.

“There is only so much lightweighting we can achieve with conventional materials,” said Greg Rucks, a consultant with RMI. “Instead of wringing the last bit of innovation left in current designs, the same amount of innovation and design effort could be more productively applied toward revolutionary autos that far exceed 100 mpg equivalent with better safety and performance. Automakers who recognize this early will be in the best position to capture market share.”

BMW’s all-electric i3 concept car—the “megacity vehicle” is one example of what could be a market disrupter. With a mostly carbon fiber body, the i3’s lightness allows it to travel much longer distances on a single battery charge while providing superior safety (carbon fiber can absorb up to six times more crash energy than aluminum).

According to BMW, the i3 Concept reveals “the car’s qualities the first time you set eyes on it,” indicating that the automaker believes early adopters want to stand out and get noticed for being ahead of the curve.

The BMW i3 Concept Image from bmwblog.com

I’m not going to lie—if I saw this pull up in the next parking space, I don’t doubt that I would shamelessly strike up a conversation with the owner. And, I have definitely been caught admiring a driver of a Nissan Leaf (just stopping short of giving them a hug like the polar bear in Nissan’s commercial).

What do you think? Are consumers more likely to flock to EVs that are more familiar? Or will early adopters be more impressed by models that are clearly leading-edge?


Showing 1-2 of 2 comments

January 23, 2012

We should join the revolution to electric cars and electric car manufacturing. Electric cars like the Nissan Leaf or the hybrid gal/electric Chevy volt are the cars of the future and ultimately the use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, CFRP, to make those cars and windmill parts is the manufacturing process of the future. Toyota recently showed off a concept car made of CFRP and aluminum that will weigh 67% less than the Prius and gets 94 mpg when running on gasoline and maybe 200 mpg when running on electricity. Even the Volt operates for about 1/3rd of the cost of a gas car when running on electric and the Leaf for even less.

Electric cars have a range limit, but every single family with two cars is a candidate for an electric car as their drive to work, school and shopping car with the gasoline car reserved for trips. The electric car manufacturing business is in its infancy and we should promote starting to manufacture them here in Syracuse. Ideally we could attract a carbon fiber plant as well since that is the material used in the highest performance electric cars.

Also we should be aggressively preparing for electric cars to be used and sold here. Manufactures will not sell electrics here for several years if we do not do advance preparation as suggest by the Rocky Mountain Institute’s messages here.

Here are 12 Reasons why you should own an electric car:
1. Imagine a car that never has to stop at a gas station again?..............2. Imagine having a car that get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon.................. 3. Imagine a car where the brakes almost never wear out because the motor acts as a regenerative brake.........................4. Imagine a car that starts instantly in cold weather without using a huge amount of gas (because the automatic choke is fully engaged in a gasoline car)................5. Imagine a car where you don’t have to change the oil......................6. Or get a tune up...................7. Or worry about valves or carburetors.............8. Imagine a car where you can hear your radio or hands free cell phone because there’s no engine noise..............9. Imagine a car whose engine stops instantly when you stop..........10. Imagine a car that emits no polluting fumes........11. Imagine a car where the yearly service charges are only a fraction of what you pay now.............12. Imagine a car that helps the planet by using green electricity generated at night and that will be part of our future Smart Grid................. But you don’t have to just imagine now because.................they are here now.

Dave Ashley

May 22, 2012

I won't buy an alternative energy car because I have not seen a serious attempt to build one, except by Aptera. I would have bought that car because of the platform, no matter what it was powered by. It is not ignorance or stupidity that is blocking an efficient car. They know how to build it, but they refuse. As long as we buy their 1% energy efficient cars we are part of the problem. We encourage the slowest possible transformation. I won't do that. I demand a real effort. I refuse to be teased with concept cars that will never be produced. They could spend that money on a serious production model.

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