Electric cars will put design in the driving seat

In a victory for sustainability, UK restrictions on the use of electric car chargers are to be lifted under plans to increase the use of green vehicles in the UK.

Practically, this means only one subscription will be required to use charging points. Additionally, the transport secretary is allocating £2.5 million of funding for more than 1,000 new electric car charging points.

All signs point to the British government readying itself for the next wave of innovation in the auto-industry. Just as our streets were once emptied of the horse and cart, in the not-so-distant future our roads could be free of petrol and diesel powered vehicles – transforming how we drive in the process.

I recently bought an electric car, a BMW i3s. I did so for environmental reasons but I didn’t fully appreciate just how radically different the driving experience would be. Among many innovations, the experience embraces connected technology, reduced running costs, outstandingly fast performance and virtual silence. A measure of moral smugness is thrown in as an emotional extra.

BMW i3 and i3S 120Ah (Image: BMW Group)

BMW i3 and i3S 120Ah (Image: BMW Group)

Driving experience aside, we are on the brink of a design revolution for the auto industry thanks to e-cars. In a way, the clock is being turned back so auto designers can free their imagination.

There is evidence that the classic car market is heading for fast decline: the value of such cars at auction dropped dramatically over the summer, driven by concerns over the availability of fuel. Yet many of the vehicles of the 1950s, 60s and 70s remain iconic symbols of design at its wonderful best. They were symbols of freedom, opportunity and progress, and they were magnificent to behold.

But as competition and market demand increased, the distinctive beauty of car design eroded away. The dominant voices around the automotive industry table became those of engineers and economists who sought to compromise the work of the designer in the name of efficient manufacturing process and, ultimately, lower prices. The democratisation of the automobile happened at the expense of elite design.

But now, the possibilities for a design-led approach are once again coming to the fore and are endless. Electric vehicles do not require a cooling system, oil, a transmission, nor so much else of the mechanics of a fossil-fuelled car. As battery and electric motor technology improves, the design challenge shifts from “how do I fit it all in?”, to, “what on earth am I going to do with all this space?”. As a consequence, we are about to witness a transformation on the scale of how Apple transformed the PC or the mobile phone.

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