It is an odd thing, but whenever a new electric car or a ‘car of the future’ is unveiled it ends up looking kind of ugly. For some reason throwing a battery under the bonnet, solar cells on the roof or a new type of fuel in the tank seems to send designers down an interesting creative path. Or at least one where they feel the need to let the world know the car is electric or hybrid, just by the look of it.
Recently a new solar call ‘for the whole family’ was unveiled in the US. Known as Stella, the car is designed for traditional roads and can operate on a single electric charge for up to 500 miles. There is no doubt that it is an incredible feat of engineering, but would you buy one?
Looking back, history is littered with odd looking electric cars. The 1973 GM Urban Electric Car looked a little bit like a pram, the first Honda Insight was curiously curvy, and most solar cars have a ‘table top’ look (including Stella), which is always handy if you’re on a picnic. In 2012, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson got a slap on the wrist for comparing the Toyota Prius wagon to the elephant man.
Naturally, there are compromises that need to be made to minimise weight and increase surface area, especially if you are using solar cells. There are also design challenges in accommodating battery technologies.
Personal taste also comes into play, but thanks to companies like Tesla and Fiat, electric cars are getting their sexy back. They are not just using cutting edge battery technology, but matching it with some serious curves. Yesterday, Tesla launched its D model (a new version of the Tesla S) which looks like an Aston Martin and Fiat’s 500e carries the same good looks as its petrol-based brother. The Fisker Karma was also definitely desirable, but the makers went bankrupt. Fortunately, the new owners of the company are planning to begin production again.
At CSIRO, we’ve been working on batteries that power electric and hybrid vehicles for some time. In 2008, our UltraBattery set a new standard for hybrid and electric cars when it powered a car 100,000 miles. Most recently, the UltraBattery was unveiled in the new Honda Odyssey at the Tokyo Motor Show.
As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is definitely not just electric cars that have been hit with the ugly stick over the years. Just feast your eyes on the Pontiac Aztec, which made the Daily Telegraph’s 10 of the world’s ugliest cars list.
Note about the blogger: Simon Hunter drives an average-looking VW Golf and is pretty keen on cars, but is not a scientist, engineer or car expert. His favourite car is a Lotus Esprit Turbo, which many people would say is a little bit ugly.
22nd January 2015 at 10:10 pm
Nice article.Thanks for sharing with us
25th October 2014 at 1:33 am
I have seen generations of cars and the updated models always seem strange or ugly at first but then people grow accustomed to them. I can recall when bigger was considered better – than compact cars that were so small people felt like sardines in them. This is just the next inevitable phase.
11th October 2014 at 10:44 am
Designed by engineers. CSIRO need to learn to co-design!
11th October 2014 at 12:47 am
Energy never disapates it only changes shape and form. Oil and natual gas took millions upon millions of years to develope under many forms of thermo processes, remember that, millions upon millions of years of unique tempatures and pressures, and once the human race is out of oil, it will take millions upon millions of years for oil to be there again. As fast as the human race pumps oil out of the ground as fast as the human race grows, it will still take millions of years to remake oil through natural processes.I made an energy car when I was in 7th grade in Monge Jr Highschool in Crest Hill Illinois. I really did make it. The hydrogen fuel cell car that President George W. Bush Jr. was proposing at the time was because that hydrogen fuel cells are used on the intranational ace station and it creates energy by conjoining and seperating two common chemicals, oxygen and hydrogen. Diversifying the energy grid system is a must as the human population grows and as the earth runs out of oil, and that would be the time when mass rioting breaksout because everyone should of bought a TESLA car or an electric car. I grew up driving gasoline powered cars FORD and Chevy, AMERICAN made automobiles. Do I think that the human race can still use oil and gas powered cars? Yep. Though, why? Is the human race too scared to make a change for the better of the entire planet to have a chance at something new? Should I care weather the human race uses oil or transforms to new energies? Do you care? And why or why not would you care? POWER UP THE IRISH EMERALD RINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!
10th October 2014 at 6:52 pm
So what’s the problem. These are all concept cars, of course they won’t look as stylish as the new cars until they are ready for mass production.