Automobiles News

Design takes centre-stage as carmakers re-invent the wheel for EVs


Mumbai: As automobiles go through a transition from fossil fuel to electric, design is taking a centre stage like never before throwing open an array of possibilities for their designers. With batteries and motors replacing engines and valves— a lot under the hood is set to become standardised. In the absence of an engine, exhaust system, car makers will be able to offer larger cabins within the same footprint.

“When most things become the same, it’s only the design that differentiates,” says Pratap Bose, chief design officer, auto and farm sector, Mahindra & Mahindra, who has crafted a new design language for its upcoming range of electric SUVs. All the models– including the electrified models based on the existing fossil fuel-based models and the born electric (developed ground up) ones will be based on the company’s newly developed INGLO architecture but will have their own distinctive identity, explained Bose.

Earlier there was engine and engine capacity, today the electric powertrain is becoming much more democratic, he said. One of the reasons why one sees so many companies that were not even carmakers, looking to develop cars. “Therefore, what you are left with is design – and that is an opportunity,” he stated.

The born electric platforms do not share any commonality with internal combustion engines (ICE) and requires an array of changes that range overall look and appeal, tech intensity which includes enhances human machine interface, energy efficiency, new and refreshed and futuristic design language and a vehicle architecture which is efficient, lightweight, and able to maximize the range. Carmakers will be able to deliver 20%-25% more in terms of interior space as compared to an ICE model of a similar dimension, says Bose.

Both interior as well as exterior design, will play a significant role as auto designers ride on the opportunity thrown open by EVs to re-invent the brand narrative, reflect the changes in technology and position their creation as an object that has a strong connect with the buyers.

“At Tata Motors, we have adopted an inside-out design approach to vehicle design,” says Martin Uhlarik, global head of design at the firm adding that designers, need to attract customers and combine the desirability of the shape and sculpture with the usability and functionality of the space and make them equally attractive.Mahindra’s Bose says while there’s no denying the fact that interior will gain prominence in the years to come, exterior will remain equally important as that is what hooks and draws a buyer. He explains with the analogy of (marriage portal) “The photo is the exterior but your relationship with the product is actually through the interior.”“From a supply chain point of view the vehicle born electric architecture needs to ensure parts commonality so that there is enough size and scale for parts that are available. So that overall prices can come down and the bill of material cost can be optimized,” says Rahul Mishra, partner at global consulting Kearney.

To be sure, creating a model with tangible sense of aerodynamic prowess—as the vehicle aerodynamic has a direct correlation with range, sporty performance, and environmental responsibility, all packed into one, have emerged as the common cues for auto designers in India and globally as EVs become mainstream.

For Tata Motors, electric car market leader, which waded into the EVs by electrifying its existing range of internal combustion engine models, the challenge was to give a distinct identity to its EV models from the existing ones while it worked on the born electric models which will make a debut in 2025.

“When we started with the Nexon EV, the colours, accents and badges were the only point of differentiation from the Nexon,” says Uhlarik adding that “there is no room for a middle ground. “People either connect with the design or they ignore it.”

But over the last three years since the launch the company has managed to create a distinct identity between ICE and EV, front-end designs. “We’ve leveraged the technical differences, sculpting around the air intake, and cooling requirements that each powertrain has to offer. There are of-course a lot more areas of opportunity for differentiation,” he said adding that the AVINYA (born electric car) and Sierra (mid-size SUV) concepts showcased at the Auto Expo 23 illustrate some of the unique elements the company has embarked on to create differentiated identities.


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