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EV styling/design, aero vs. weird-mobile

Discussion in 'Electric Vehicles' started by techmaven, Oct 8, 2015.

  1. techmaven

    techmaven Active Member

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    #1 techmaven, Oct 8, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 9, 2015
    (mod note: split from the Chevy Bolt - 200 mile range for $30k base price (after incentive) thread)

    Ah, I think we are missing something here.

    The Prius was redesigned 2004 to its now iconic shape and Toyota ended up with a hit on its hands to the dismay of the many doubters. Part of the success of the 2nd gen Prius was the idea that people identified the iconic shape of that Prius as eco-friendly. Further, over and over, consumer behavior has re-inforced the idea that eco-friendly cars have to look, well a bit odd to say the least in order to attract the eco-friendly crowd. Now, is that true or not, that's a matter of debate. But certainly the Ford Focus Electric, which basically looks just like other Ford Focus vehicles has not done as well as the Nissan Leaf, which looks like an eco-friendly car. By the time Tesla was pushing the Model S, the mainstream automakers had pretty much decided that there was a segment of the car buying consumer population that wanted an "ugly" car that was distinctively eco-friendly and it had to cost no more than a certain dollar amount ($40-50k or so) and it could be dubious in terms of styling and overall utility in terms of the overall market.

    It is the success of the Model S that has changed that perception to some degree.

    Therefore, if you look at the competitors to the Prius, you will see that many did their market research and decided that they had to ship wierdmobiles. So we end up with the Nissan Leaf, the BMW i3, and so forth. Note that BMW has a separate i-series branding for their eco-cars. Note that Nissan has not pushed an Infiniti BEV.

    As for the Bolt, it's, at least now it doesn't have to suffer under the illusion that the willing buyers would insist on a wierdmobile.
     
  2. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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    The Focus Electric does worse because it is less practical (mainly due to trunk space) due to being a third party conversion. It also lacks in many areas (like quick charging and I believe price also until recently).
     
  3. michaelwb

    michaelwb Member

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    I wouldn't be so quick to call the Bolt design a weirdmobile. The compact hatchback is one of the most popular auto form factors out there and for good reason, too: they maximize interior space while maintaining a tidy footprint. The Bolt in profile resembles a Honda Fit, which sells well in different markets. Not every car can have the classic Coke bottle shape of the Model S; at lower pricepoints, practicality is what sells.
     
  4. ChadS

    ChadS Petroleum is for sissies

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    #4 ChadS, Oct 8, 2015
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    The idea that eco buyers want unique and/or ugly cars is an oft-repeated assertion in the press that, as far as I can tell, started when the Prius outsold the Civic Hybrid. The assumption was that the cars were essentially the same (they weren't), but people were buying the ugly one, so they must want ugly cars.

    There are probably a couple dozen consumers somewhere that want ugly cars; but there are nowhere near enough of them to affect sales numbers. I have never heard a single Prius owner (which included me) saying they bought it for how it looks. We bought it in spite of its looks (for me personally, after a long search to make sure there wasn't something better looking out there - the Civic Hybrid was closest at the time, but it was notably smaller in the rear seat and cargo area, 47mpg vs the 55mpg, and no cheaper), because it offered something no other car did - superior mpg in a practical family vehicle. I also hear many Leaf owners anxiously awaiting a redesign; while some are "fine" with it or maybe at best say it's "cute", I don't hear anybody saying they should keep the looks. Nissan and BMW were both very upfront about the LEAF and i3 being designed to attract conquest buyers - like Prius buyers - without cannibalizing their existing, higher-profit ICE sales.

    Toyota knew some people valued superior mpg enough to buy an ugly car that they made low margins on. By making it ugly, they were able to sell better-looking and higher-profit cars to others that cared more about looks. This is a form of "versioning" that automakers do to maximize profits. They get uber-practical eco-minded consumers (at low profit, but at least contributing to volume immediately, and more likely to be a repeat customer later) and more common mainstream buyers that are willing to pay extra for style.

    In addition to points stopcrazypp made about the Focus not being a good comparison, I'll also point out that fewer Ford dealers carry the Focus EV much less push it, and Ford does far less advertising. Most people I meet here in WA have at least heard of the LEAF, even if they don't know about it; on the other hand, very few people (even a lot of EV drivers!) here don't even realize that Ford offers an EV. (They only advertise it in CARB states).
     
  5. ItsNotAboutTheMoney

    ItsNotAboutTheMoney Active Member

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    Actually the weirdmobile is more likely for two reasons:
    1) distinctive appearance for visibility. (Not for owner ego, but for market recognition.)
    2) attracting conquest buyers. When selling electrics, companies don't want to cannibalize sales so they want a distinctive look that will encourage people who want the electric side while putting off the self-interested conventional buyers they make their money on.

    However the weirdmobile thing is overstated. Look at the plug-in market:
    Possible weirdmobiles: Leaf, i3 ... *crickets*
    Then there's "wowmobiles": S, i8, ELR, Volt Gen 1 (matter of taste, I think the ELR and Volt both suffer from American Grille syndrome, but I don't think anyone says "Oh, that ELR and Volt are so ugly, what were GM thinking?")

    Meanwhile, in ordinaryville is every other electric plug-in hybrid and electric: Prius, CMax, Fusion, Focus, Golf, 500, Spark, Fit, Accord. (OK the Prius is pretty divisive, but the Prius is the Prius.)
     
  6. gg_got_a_tesla

    gg_got_a_tesla Model S: VIN P65513, Model 3 Res Holder

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    There may be something to this theory. It may be the case that an EV conversion from a conventional car may not "stand out enough" and may do poorly against its ICE equivalent. Maybe, people do want to stand out and show their eco-cred or something. That doesn't excuse weirdmobiles though; they could just look cool like the Model S - oh, in that scenario, they may cannibalize other model sales? Hmm...
     
  7. scaesare

    scaesare Active Member

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    As michaelwb says, it's a matter of perspective. That form is useful for many folks, hence the fact that many similar designs do well in other market segments, such as the Fit both he and I mentioned.

    That's somewhat that point... the styling wasn't the overriding factor for a large segment of the population. Value was. People were willing to pony up ~$25K (-$2.5K tax incentive) for a vehicle that could go < 10 miles in EV mode and garnered ~50MPG.

    Who's to say that there's a segment of folks wouldn't find value in paying ~$38K (-$7.5K tax incentive) for a vehicle that can do ~200 miles as a BEV, and likely satisfy 99% of their daily driving needs? That's only an $8K difference.

    The Leaf ranges from ~$29-35K and only has 40% the range, but is every bit as "interesting" in the styling department, and I see those on the roads every day.
     
  8. JRP3

    JRP3 Hyperactive Member

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    #8 JRP3, Oct 8, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2015
    Though the Prius looked odd the looks had a purpose, good efficiency, (aerodynamics), with good usable interior space. That just means that, (some), people will put up with weird looks if they serve a purpose and provide a benefit.
     
  9. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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    #9 stopcrazypp, Oct 8, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2015
    Yes, value matters. Is that enough to get to 100k+ sales, though? While the Leaf is doing well for an EV, it is still doing far lower in sales than Nissan originally projected. If the Leaf actually looked good, I'm pretty sure that can help sales. As ChadS put it, people are buying the car despite the looks, but needed other things to make up for it.

    Basically like Elon put a long time ago, styling doesn't really cost money, so why are many cars designed so ugly?
     
  10. JST

    JST Active Member

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    Chris Bangle made plenty of really ugly BMWs.
     
  11. michaelwb

    michaelwb Member

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    Because practicality. It's the same reason why Model X is so "ugly" -- if by ugly you mean unconventional.

    My hunch is that Model 3, when it finally comes out, will resemble Model X in profile more so than Model S. The latter already has limited rear headroom; simply shrinking the same design by 20% will make the rear seats uninhabitable.

    There's a good reason why Model X and Prius have a similar cheese block side profile: it's a good compromise between utility and aerodynamics. I just don't buy the argument that manufacturers intentionally make their cars ugly so as not to cannibalize their ICE cars.

    2016-tesla-model-x-profile.jpg
    2010-toyota-prius-photo-263563-s-986x603.jpg
     
  12. gg_got_a_tesla

    gg_got_a_tesla Model S: VIN P65513, Model 3 Res Holder

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    Oh no, that can't be unseen now :( :)
     
  13. scottf200

    scottf200 Active Member

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    Look at it from the front, or back, or any other angle. There IS the difference.
     
  14. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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    I'm not in the camp that thinks the previous gen Prius looks ugly, nor do I think that shape looks ugly. I'm talking about certain styling elements like the headlights and rear quarter on the Leaf.

    The most recent Prius has also been called extremely ugly and it was for no practical reason (previous gen Prius did not get the same flack). However, the Prius will likely survive because it is a brand with a decade of history.
     
  15. Dutchie

    Dutchie Member

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    Allways thought the wheels of the Prius were too small. A little bigger would suit much better
     
  16. Bangor Bob

    Bangor Bob Member

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    That's about as little sidewall as I can live with. My world has potholes.
     
  17. scaesare

    scaesare Active Member

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    I assumed Dutchie meant the overall rim/tire diameter. I agree the wheel wells themselves look small in proportion to the body.

    Keep the same sidewall profile, just make the whole affair an inch or two larger in diameter.
     
  18. ChadS

    ChadS Petroleum is for sissies

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    I think there's some miscommunication here. Obviously there are several elements to design. A minivan is not going to look as good as a sports car no matter how hard you try. I agree that some of the basic shape of a car is dictated by its utility/footprint ratio.

    However, for any general type/size of car, there is a LOT you can do. Some cars look better than others even if they are the same general size. For example, pretty much any Lexus looks better than the Toyota it is based off of. It would actually cost them less to make the cars all look like the Lexus; the reason the Toyotas are less attractive is that they are "versioning"; trying to pull in the "practical" mass-market Toyota buyers for volume while also capturing the Lexus buyers that are willing to pay more for appearances (along with other things).

    This isn't auto-specific; it happens in many industries.
     
  19. wdolson

    wdolson Active Member

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    Mainstream car makers are largely trying to appeal to only one type of customer with the weirdmobile Eco cars: the eco consumer. I think this is a short range marketing choice on the part of these companies. They are wooing a market segment turned off by ICE cars who aren't really interested in one, and trying to keep ICE buyers from straying over to the other side of the showroom. They don't want mainstream car buyers to buy eco cars because that hurts their other business segments.

    Additionally the mainstream car makers want to perpetuate the idea that to drive an eco car, you have to give up something. The car has to be gutless, or have poor range and/or you give up cargo space to have batteries, and you have to look like a prat driving it. The ICE Ford Fusion has a 16 cu ft trunk, but the PHEV Fusion only has an 8 cu ft trunk and poorer performance. If they sold eco cars that looked like something other than children's toys and were better in many ways, it would hurt their ICE business.

    There are at least some eco buyers who want to scream to the world they are driving an eco car. But the mainstream car makers are trying to ghetto-ize the eco buyers into their own segment driving weirdmobiles with limitations over an ICE. Right now Tesla isn't price competitive with other eco cars, but the Model 3 will change that.

    Tesla has proven that eco cars don't have to be ghetto-ized. Something the mainstream car makers haven't really acknowledged yet. Tesla has been popular with well heeled eco-people, but its reach expands beyond just the eco crowd. I wanted better gas mileage than my current car, but I wasn't looking at electric cars until all the ICE options failed to meet my criteria. There are a lot of people, some don't think of the environment at all, or it isn't their #1 priority in buying a car who are drawn to Tesla for other factors than the fact it's all electric. The Model S has better cargo space than any large sedan in the world, even the entry level models have better acceleration than most large sedans, the supercharger network mitigates the long distance travel issues with BEVs to a large extent, and the economy is definitely better than any ICE or even hybrid out there. It's not just the best BEV in the world, it is plain and simple, a better car than most cars out there regardless of the energy source.

    That's the secret sauce Tesla has tapped into the mainstream car makers can't allow themselves to see. If they truly built a Tesla killer, it would kill off the rest of their product line which they have invested billions of dollars and many thousands of careers into. The people running these companies are among those who built their careers on ICE cars. It's not in their DNA to change that radically. These companies won't truly change until EV people rise to the top and that won't happen until their very existence is threatened.

    This American Life did a great program on NUMMI, the joint venture between Toyota and GM. Toyota needed to build cars in the US or face sanctions, and GM had to figure out how to build cars the way Toyota did to survive. Toyota showed the GM people how they did things, but while some middle managers who saw the Toyota way got it, upper management couldn't grok the new way of doing things. They were too deeply rooted in the way they had always done things. The result was GM went through a painful bankruptcy.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/403/nummi

    It's worth listening to with an ear to how large organizations have a lot of trouble changing. Even when they see the handwriting on the wall, the old ways are too entrenched and moving in a new direction is too alien for enough people to even contemplate it. In 20 years, I expect Tesla to be a major player in the car business, they won't be the world's largest, but they will be the company everyone is trying to catch. Some tech companies might be in the game too, I would put more money on Apple than anyone else. They have more drive to produce something and they have a lot of money to make a lot of mistakes figuring out how to make a car. Some of the current big car companies will be gone and others will be smaller and more humble than today. I expect the survivors will include Toyota, Renault-Nissan, and Ford. Fiat-Chysler is probably in one of the weakest positions and may not make it. Mazda and Subraru are too small to invest in the heavy R&D needed. They might survive by partnering with someone or merging. GM and VW may make it simply because they are large companies with a ways to fall. Many luxury brands like Mercedes and BMW will probably make it because they have a loyal customer base who will stick with them longer than family car makers.

    Those that survive the awakening to a new market reality will have a tough road to redesign their cars into something customers want, but a number of the current car makers will be around in one form or another.
     
  20. TexasEV

    TexasEV Active Member

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    Very true. This is why we won't get a compelling EV from traditional car companies. They may want to have something to sell to those who are looking specifically to buy an EV, but not something so good that will attract sales away from their ICE lines. They have too much invested in that legacy technology to risk cannibalizing those sales.
     

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