EVERY motor show in recent memory has served up outlandish, lounge room-on-wheels-type concept cars that allegedly preview the future of mobility.
But even as the technology necessary to make such cars a real-world reality becomes available, the unconventional form factors we’ve been told to get excited about are unlikely to find their way to the road. That’s according to the man in charge of design at Hyundai Group.
“I think there’s a lot of interesting concepts, but if you look at the Tesla, it’s still a normal car," says Peter Schreyer. "I think this is probably the reason for its success.
“The packaging is different – it has some boot space in the front, and it is quite roomy [inside] – but from the exterior design it is not differentiating that much. This is probably the reason why people buy it.”
Schreyer says any EV should look ‘normally different’.
"It should show what it is, but never something that looks different for the sake of being different. If you buy a suit that is made from a very environmentally friendly fabric you don’t necessarily have it in bright green.”
Without a combustion engine to package, EVs offer designers a unique opportunity. But there are practical considerations and safety rules applicable to all cars that make many autonomous pod concepts unfeasible – in the medium term at least.
“At the end of the day there are still a lot of regulations set upon us,” says Kia’s chief designer Gregory Guilliame.
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“You still need a certain amount of volume in front of the occupants to absorb all the energy in case of a crash. It’s not like from one day to another cars can look completely different. Regulations are still there.”
Even small-scale changes using modern equipment bring potential risks, such as the replacement of wing mirrors with cameras as seen on the next-gen Lexus ES and Audi E-Tron.
“You always have to be careful with new technologies,” Guilliame warns.
“You have to ask yourself, are you doing it because there’s a wow factor, a cool factor? But actually the benefit for the driver is not that great, and could even be a negative one.
“I will have to see what happens with all the cameras. We are now so used to getting information in a certain area, in a certain way that automatisms have been built up in us.
Guilliame then turned his attention to the gesture controls found in vehicles from other manufacturers.
“We’ve had knobs for so long. They’re just good. You’ve got to wonder why this [gesturing] is better. I’m not sure. I question it. Yes, when they did it every single magazine wrote about it, and everybody wants to go and see it, but do you want to be in traffic [gesturing]?
“It’s always a balance between being innovative, capturing attention, yet not pushing people.”