Electric cars mean automakers can design for the future

The Lamborghini Terzo Millennio is an exercise in electric ‘pushing the limits’ style.

Courtesy of Lamborghini

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In many ways, the electric car is a privileged opportunity, the first in over a century, to radically revamp the automobile. Freed from the constraints of internal combustion, designers travel to imagine new and better cars.

Lamborghini has never built a production electric car, but it definitely does. In 2017, the company worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to produce the Terzo Millennio (“Third Millennium”), a battery-powered vehicle for the future. Mitja Borkert, Head of Design at Lamborghini, worked on the Mission-E (precursor of the Taycan) at Porsche. “At Lamborghini we have to push the boundaries, so our electric car concept has to be completely different,” says Borkert. “The Millennio has its wheels in the corners to maximize interior space. Not having a big engine and a big gearbox gave us a lot of possibilities.

Today’s EV designers have free rein to create new and distinctive shapes worthy of science fiction. Mercedes-Benz Design Director Gorden Wagener says: “As designers we live in the future. This calls us to pursue a visionary and innovative approach to our design work day in and day out. We create new shapes that no one expects.

Weight reduction and air resistance are the main goals of new designers of electric vehicles. According to Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for electric mobility at Guidehouse Insights, “Reducing aerodynamic drag is going to be more important than ever with electric vehicles to help maximize range. Of course, the reduced cooling requirements of an electric vehicle compared to internal combustion mean that the traditional grille is no longer necessary.

But, of course, for BMW, Alfa Romeo, Rolls-Royce and other automakers, the grille is a distinctive part of their identity. That’s why, for example, the BMW i3 and the new iX keep the company’s traditional twin kidneys up front. And why the Tesla Model 3 – without a grille opening – seems unusual. “For the designer, the question is how to give a vehicle personality and brand recognition without simply copying the past,” explains Abuelsamid.

The Lucid Air is a design derived from white-leaf electrification, with ample passenger space, front and rear.

Courtesy of Lucid

Until now, car manufacturers have largely installed batteries in their existing models to create electric vehicles. But the platforms evolved to serve engines and transmissions are hardly optimized for electric power. Sometimes the back seat was lost due to battery storage. The modern electric vehicle sits on a “skateboard” platform and stores its small batteries under the car.

Automakers now have motors and controllers so drastically miniaturized that the real estate under the hood can be claimed as a useful ‘funk’ to complement the trunk. Inside, there’s no need for a transmission tunnel or conventional transmission, for that matter. This allows for a flat floor and frees up interior space for creative consoles and more legroom.

The Lucid Air, designed from the start to be an electric vehicle, offers a pleasant grille-less shape, a glass roof and optimization of space inside the passenger compartment. Lucid Motors chief designer Derek Jenkins explains: “On air, we were able to lower our relatively small propulsion components (batteries and electric motors) and move them away from the passenger cell, which could then be enlarged. The car’s front engine, for example, is sandwiched between the firewall and the trunk, and adds crash protection.

Next up for Lucid is the Gravity SUV, which Jenkins says will be “big and straight,” reflecting the public’s taste for SUVs, but will retain many of the Air’s design cues nonetheless. And the generous interior space, made possible by the electrical fittings, will once again be part of the appeal.

This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Penta magazine.

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