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The importance of automotive design today

The effect of electric drivetrains on automotive design

By on 01 May 2024

Vehicle design forms a massive part of the development process of a new vehicle and automotive manufacturers spend a huge amount of money on designing a new vehicle. This process starts with sketches, before being realised as a clay model which is refined into a vehicle that might enter production one day.

Designing a modern vehicle presents numerous challenges as designers need to take a variety of factors into consideration. The overall design must be able to accommodate all the modern safety systems while adhering to certain design requirements that are mandated by authorities, such as those that govern pedestrian safety. Furthermore these days vehicle manufacturers utilise one or two platforms for all their cars, meaning that new models need to fit onto this platform, which means constrains in terms of width, wheelbase and powertrain placement.

Designing a vehicle free from any of these constraints can result in some spectacular models but these will unfortunately never reach production, instead they are designed to showcase a new design direction and grace the halls of motor shows as a brand building exercise.

The influence of electric vehicles on design

The advent of electric vehicles has resulted in new challenges and a new direction for vehicle design. Modern electric vehicles utilise a very different platform compared to that of an internal combustion engine as an electric vehicle platform packages motors and batteries as part of the drivetrain. Furthermore many vehicle manufacturers use the same motors, batteries and even platforms which are developed by third party suppliers. This in essence means that under the skin, many electric vehicles are actually the same and that the only differentiators are the interior, user experience and exterior design.

Gone are the big radiator grilles as the need for engine cooling has disappeared, instead we see minimalist design and beautiful aerodynamic shapes.

This minimalist design not only boosts visual appeal but also results in lower weight, which translates into improved energy efficiency, range and performance.

Modern users are also very astute in terms of design and less brand loyal and this means that an attractive design is prioritised in their vehicle shopping decision. What a vehicle looks like and how buyers perceive they will look when driving that vehicle is now a major consideration.

Designers finally have more freedom to design where good design is the priority and with less restrictions, especially around engine and transmission placement.

Being based on a flat chassis, free of a transmission tunnel and gear lever has also opened up opportunities in terms of interior design and along with the increased use of a variety of new materials, including recycled materials and new seat designs the interiors of electric vehicles are modern and refreshing.

The minimalistic theme is also carried through to the interior where physical buttons have been replaced by large touchscreens from where everything can be controlled.

The interior design also needs to factor in new usage requirements, such as the fact that vehicles are now more than just a place to sit while driving, as many electric vehicle users also prefer being inside the car while utilising public charging facilities. This means an added focus on creating interiors aimed at increased comfort, for drivers and passengers.

Sustainability at its core

Sustainability is one of the buzz words, dominating the vehicle industry and this is especially true when it comes to electric vehicles. Designers have been forced to implement sustainable materials in their designs, but this has turned out to be advantageous. Modern materials such as carbon reinforced plastics, aluminium and a wide variety of modern fabrics have allowed designers to execute designs that were not possible with traditional materials, such as steel and rubber.

A good time for great design

Vehicle design will continue to be prioritised as the automotive industry moves into an electric era and as autonomous technology is developed and we will see some innovative solutions to modern problems while more design freedom will result in beautifully designed vehicles.

Credit: Reuben van Niekerk

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