The horse’s head holding back electric car styling

electric car

Innovative car design is a good example of how the creation of disruptive ideas is not hard, but their implementation is. Consider the Aptera, a forward-thinking and beautifully graceful electric car with a range of 120 miles.

Things appeared rosy for the company when it first launched the futuristic-looking car at the beginning of 2009 and took 4,000 advance orders. Reviews of the car’s performance and radical styling were overwhelmingly positive; American talk show host, Jay Leno, whose extensive car collection includes a 1909 Baker electric car gave it a glowing review on his website.

Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for the leap to a highly-efficient and lightweight tree-wheeled electric car. There are numerous examples throughout automotive history of car makers fretting that their designs were too radical. The 1899 Horsey Horseless carriage was an early design of car that featured a life-size horse’s head.

electric car styling

The outlandish hood ornament was intended to placate both horses that might otherwise have spooked by a motorcar and potential drivers more comfortable holding reigns than a steering wheel. Twenty years later, some car makers were including a cylindrical holder beside the driver’s door that at one time would have held a horse whip.  Nonsensical nods to the past are evident even in the cars of tomorrow.

Spurred on by the pace of development being set by luxury electric car maker Tesla, Mercedes has recently unveiled plans for their own battery powered high-end saloon. It’s every inch the sleek and elegant concept car, but why does it have multiple exhaust pipes? It appears that Mercedes have included them as styling cue to represent power, which is ironic given that many high-performance electric cars can out accelerate their internal combustion engined rivals.

Mercedes electric car

Styling might seem a minor issue, but it will play a role in the cultural acceptance of electric cars. Perhaps burned by the experience of Aptera, EV makers such as Tesla play it safe with conventional styling that makes visual references to elements such as the front grille –  a feature completely unnecessary on an electric car.  Imagine if electric vehicles had the confidence in we drivers to design an entirely new breed of vehicle – taking the fight to the makers of the noisy and dirty cars we drive today. Imagine a TV ad for Tesla that showed a diesel car parked over oil drips being filled up by someone wearing plastic gloves to keep the smell of fuel off their hands.

When Tesla boss Elon Musk has announced that his cars would have the capability to drive completely autonomously by 2017, he acknowledged that public acceptance, not to mention the law, would be years behind.

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Comments

  1. M

    Reply

    Yes, more people need to make this point.

    Aerodynamics is the ONE biggest thing which could make electric range anxiety a thing of the past.

    Just look at the entrants in the Australian Solar Challenge races. Those cars have a tiny fraction of the power requirement that a family car has, yet they manage respectable speeds pwered only by onboard PV panels.
    Ok, those are extreme examples, expensive and very cramped inside.

    But especially for a multi-car household, the car used for commuting needn’t be spacious. Electric motors already give good acceleration, now great aerodynamics could give acceptable range for a two-way commute and even the longer journeys that presently stymie EVs. All without too many expensive batteries.

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