The basic shape of a car has been defined for the first time since 1886, when the Benz Patent Motor-Wagen, the world’s first gasoline car built by German Carl Benz, came out. In the past 100 years, whether it is a three-wheeled, four-wheeled, or even a trailer with multiple wheels, elegant, muscular or streamlined silhouette, more than a century of evolution has allowed mankind to see a variety of car shapes.
However, in the upcoming “Electric Vehicle Generation”, the design of the cars is not as varied as that of the gasoline car, and the overall structure seems to be similar.
What is the reason for this?
Compared with gasoline vehicles, which need to place a huge internal combustion engine, EVs need to be equipped with a lot fewer basic components, mainly composed of three parts: electric drive system, power system and auxiliary system. The electric drive system includes electronic controllers, power converters, electric motors, mechanical transmissions and wheels, and its function is to efficiently convert the electrical energy stored in the battery into kinetic energy of the wheels. The power supply system includes a power supply, an energy management system and a charger.
Its functions are mainly to provide driving power to the motor, monitor the usage of the power supply, and control the charger to charge the battery. Finally, auxiliary systems include auxiliary power sources, power steering systems, navigation systems, air conditioning, lighting and defrosting devices and audio. Those are mainly used to improve the manoeuvrability of the car and the comfort of the occupants. At first glance, there are still a lot of accessories needed. Yet, because energy is transmitted through flexible wires instead of rigid couplings and shafts in electric vehicles, the arrangement of electric vehicles has much more flexibility.
So what does this have to do with the similar appearance of electric cars?
The future of car design is all about the chassis. Due to the flexibility mentioned above, the chassis is mostly 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. Other than the chassis, such as the interior of the car shell, are the only places for designers to be creative.
In the near future, automakers are likely to buy these EV chassis from third parties. For example, Dell or HP source their processors from Intel and then install their own bodies or top hats. Daniel Barel, CEO of Ree Automotive said “What we bring is a blank canvas, any shape, any size, any weight, any kind of body technology and autonomy.” In addition, Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group also established Mobility In Harmony Open EV Platform (MIH) in mid-October 2020, trying to create a public version of electric vehicles, implement key technologies, develop reference designs, promote industry standards. At the same time be friendly to the EV ecosystem, lowering the barriers to entry of the industry, accelerating innovation, and shortening the development cycle.
Providing a template for all EV is a double-edged sword. For now, most manufacturers choose to play it safe when it comes to EV design. “Honestly, nobody really pushes the boundaries,” Mark Stubbs said, a design director at Radford and alumnus of Bugatti, Lotus and Ford. “Everyone just creates an electric version of the car.”
Somehow also due to the standardized design of the chassis, the bold body designs such as the interior are also relatively easy to co-build, as there is no need to correspond to a variety of different drivetrains, and the re-emphasis of brand identity through aesthetics will take center stage. Car brands that have relied on engineering advantages in the past will no longer have such advantages. The powerplant of a car may no longer be a key battleground.