BMW has revealed the iX, an electric production car for 2021 which previews the marque in the new age of transport. I caught up with Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president BMW Group design, who explains the progressive design and pioneering technology behind this flagship car. He discusses the possibilities of reinventing the marque in the post-Covid era. Read my exclusive interview here.
Rolls-Royce is calling it post-opulence. Bannenberg & Rowell say it is post-hedonism. Is luxury about to enter a new age? The reality is with almost any product or experience casually labelled ‘luxury’, the concept no longer holds any special value.
Today, luxury is more than often brash, vulgar, and a mirror of the less tasteful side of our cultures. It is time to reclaim the word and make it relevant to the post-coronavirus era.
Take a look at one brand doing just this here
Electrification has been hailed as the next chapter in personal transport for some time. We’ve been promised interesting products, thoughtfully designed cars that are driven in full or partly by an electric motor. We’ve been teased with some intriguing visions for electric cars for a number of years. Yet until recently all these have been exactly that – visions.
Carmakers are not entirely to be blamed. A real infrastructure in most counties, even in the highly developed world, has simply not existed. Without charging zones and all the other furniture that completes electric driving, there seemed no real urgency to develop these visions. Until now. The new breed are nothing like the clumsy G-Wiz and other poorly designed older electric cars – products like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and BMW’s i3 have already proved that you don’t need to sacrifice on looks or driving when you go electric.
The latest product to hit our roads is the Volkswagen e-Up. What sets this car and the other new ones apart from their predecessors is that they are actually a whole lot of fun to drive. It is pleasant cruising along in near silence. And with instant torque electric cars can be pretty swift. Range anxiety is an issue especially out on country roads where charging zones may not be in easy reach, but then battery life depends on how you drive these cars. In the case of the e-Up VW’s figures are around 75-103 miles in summer and 50-75 miles in winter. The driver has some degree of intervention through the energy recovery system and selecting from the three driving modes – normal, eco and eco plus.
Unlike the Leaf, Zoe and i3 that were born to be electric, VW is basing its electric strategy on existing models – hence the e-Up and soon e-Golf. And where the i3 is a brilliantly crafted machine that is perhaps not for everyone, the e-Up is a car precisely for the masses. Much like its conventionally-powered sibling, this tiny city car has been envisaged and created with a wider world in mind. And the electric e-Up holds the same promise of universal – and in this case – electric mobility.
Read our review of the BMW i3.
The taxi cab can be one of the most iconic features of an urban landscape – think the London black cab or the New York yellow taxi. With electric driving considered the most reasonable choice for current clean mobility, it makes sense to turn these often polluting vehicles into something ecologically responsible.
With this in mind Volkswagen has designed a taxi with London in mind that is not only electrically driven, but provides for a modern transportation environment. This is the last in its World Taxis series that has thus far included a Hong Kong, Berlin and Milanese cab.
This is a cute and quirky looking vehicle based very much on the loveable iconic original VW Campervan. Head of VW design Klaus Bischoff says this and the original Beetle have been the main inspiration for this concept and the Up city car for 2013 on which the taxi shares its underpinnings. ‘People remember these vehicles positively,’ he says noting that it is this sense of nostalgia that needs to find its way into the entire electric car range.
It is mainly with the face where VW hopes to make a unique impression with this car and the rest of the electric vehicle family. ‘VWs were born with their engines in the rear and so there was an absence of a radiator grille or an opening on the face,’ says the designer. An electric car doesn’t require an opening at the front – there is no conventional engine to cool. Therefore like the Up, the taxi concept’s face has a tiny ring shaped grille, there really to represents the mouth and in a sense complete the face. ‘We wanted to give the car a unique look, but one that is friendly and sympathetic,’ says Bischoff.
The prototype is relatively compact – 3,730mm long, 1,680mm wide and 1,600mm high. The absence of a conventional engine at the front and clever packaging however, has allowed for a pretty spacious interior that can sit a driver and two passengers in individual seats – as opposed to the usual bench – comfortably with lots of extra space to place for luggage.
Daytime running lights mounted within the headlight units are joined by a taxi light on the roof. At the rear the light units are integrated into the split tailgate, behind which are a pair of cubbies to house the driver’s belongings.
The light and spacious cabin is visually dominated by two large touch screen displays – one by the driver and one by the passengers. The driver can personalise the display setting on his display much like a smart phone, and in the rear a similar screen relays information to the passengers on their route and their immediate environment. Plus the reduced colour scheme that includes only a splash of red helps with electricity usage.
It takes just over an hour to charge the electric taxi’s slim battery to 80% of its capacity. The 113bhp electric motor gives a top speed of 74mph, and the 45kWh battery provides a range of up to 186 miles.
The prototype features deliberate tongue-in-cheek details such as the silver Union Jack on the roof and the City of London’s coat of arms on the sides and dashboard.
‘For me London has the most convincing taxi in the world,’ confesses Bischoff. ‘The New York taxi is nice, but not as comfortable as the London cab. It gives the urban setting a unique character, and we wanted to pay tribute to this.’
Read more on the VW electric taxi cab in Wallpaper*.
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Alfonso Albaisa, design director at Nissan in America, discusses electric car design, the future of clean mobility and his take on the zero-emission sports car.
Design Talks Should zero-emission cars have their own unique architecture and formal language?
Alfonso Albaisa They are finding their own unique architecture. The formal language, however, is more of a conscious effort – it’s the intentional part. The zero emission car doesn’t need its own design language, but it is important not to express it just like a regular car.
DT How has this been expressed in the Leaf electric production car, which looks more like a conventional square shaped hatchback?
AA The focus for the Leaf has been this amazing compact and powerful battery. This is a five people’s car that runs on electricity for 100 miles – this may sound easy but it is a mountain. One way to achieve this has been to make this car as aerodynamic as possible. Most people think the teardrop is the most aerodynamic shape, but it needs to be much longer to have enough flow. For a car the size of the Leaf, the square shape is the best as it controls the airflow. You want the air on the side and top to move smoothly over and end at the rear where the semi-square shape directs the air away from the car.
DT The Land Glider electric concept with its narrow architecture almost feels like a motorbike – its size making it an ideal solution for city mobility.
AA Yes the car was inspired by the new generation of two-wheelers. For stability, the Land Glider leans automatically into corners – the feeling is very natural as the driver moves with the car’s motion. This shifts the centre of gravity and adds stability to the car when going around bends. This is a perfect commuter car.
Electric vehicles create so many possibilities. If this were a traditional internal combustion engine car you would have to deal with a lot of extra baggage and weight. Instead, the flat and compact lithium-ion battery (which Nissan makes in-house and charges the motors housed inside the wheels) takes up little space and has allowed us to achieve this narrow architecture.
DT There is a lot of discussion about finding the right engine note for electric driving which is otherwise a silent experience.
AA It is such a new subject – I love the fact that we are like ‘sound brain-stormers’. It is so artistic trying to find a sound that will make you feel you are contributing to the benefits of green driving. At Nissan We don’t have the sound yet and we don’t want to do something too normal. The more luxury Nissans and the Infiniti brand would need a unique sound. Electric performance cars have tremendous power so this will have to impact on their choice of sound too. Perhaps it also needs to be geographically different as there are different cultural references.
DT Will the future car become simply another electronic gadget?
AA Electric vehicles will become gadgets in the sense that they have to connect with all the other inventions required to keep them moving, such as the little charging plates or electrically powered lanes on motorways. The need to control your car remotely is especially important with electric cars as you want to charge the car off peak and use as much as your household electricity as possible to save on the battery life. In the future this is going to go a step further so that once you plug your car in to the house electricity you have affectively connected the two worlds.
DT What will we be driving in the next ten years or so?
AA With the current electric cars, the architecture may be futuristic, but it still has a hood, and a bump covering an electric power plant. However, once the power moves entirely into the wheels, as in in-wheel-motors, then it really does free up space. It is perfect for a car like the Land Glider.
The following stage will be drive-by-wire, which basically means all the steering, shift feedback and functions are done electronically. This eliminates so many restrictions and it means that you can essentially steer from anywhere. The reality is that these features will get into our mainstream projects in around three years. The promise of full driverless freedom is a little bit further down the road.
DT Do you believe there is a place for high-performance electric cars?
AA There are people who don’t love sexy sports cars. My teenage kids, for instance, are obsessed with electric cars because they feel they are helping the environment. On the other hand, electric cars have a lot of toque so they are great for sports cars.
DT What would your approach be to designing one?
AA You essentially celebrate the engine in a sports car. Therefore with the motors housed in the wheels I would emphasize the wheels – they would be very prominent. The car would be a lot lighter in weight than say the GT-R – and definitely less brutal looking. You should celebrate mostly torque and acceleration, express nimbleness and explosive speed with a green sports car.
In the future when we will have drive-by-wire, there will be no need for a body – the driver could sit low, and centrally, and perhaps have some kind of protective shield. And because of the driverless technology, he or she could choose between having a passive or active thrill – a bit like a rollercoaster ride.
Read my report published in Wallpaper* on Nissan design.
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