How electromobility is changing car design

The future should belong to electromobility: the new federal government wants to have around 14.5 million more electric cars on the roads by the end of 2030. But what does this future actually look like? And how the streetscape will change in the coming years? Prof. Paolo tumminelli from the cologne international school of design (KISD) talks in an interview about the change in car design.

Paolo Tumminelli

Prof. Paolo tumminelli (picture: victor kaiser)

Prof. Tumminelli, in the next nine years there will be 30 percent more e-cars on german roads. A new street scene awaits us at the end of 2030?

I would not go that far. We may be at the start of a mobility revolution, but change is still happening very slowly at the moment. This status quo is comparable to the situation of about 115 years ago, when carriage and horse were replaced by the automobile. The first cars were still modeled on the carriage in their design at that time and the horse was simply replaced by a motor. At the beginning of this process, there was a lack of approaches and visions to visually resolve the new mobility and to exploit it spatially. That’s the way it is now with e-vehicles too. The design and usage concept of the stromer is still very similar to that of the burner even though battery cars have only about one third of the mechanical components of a conventional car. Transmission, clutch or exhaust, for example, will be superfluous. The e-car could be completely redefined, but at the moment the automotive industry is still sticking to the design standard it has learned.

Why is that?

There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, it’s certainly a matter of habit that the possibilities are not being fully exploited. Manufacturers tend to be conservative when it comes to innovation, so as not to worry or scare their customers. No one wants to risk their brand identity here. But in my opinion it also lacks a clear political direction. I think it is a mistake that plug-in hybrids, i.e. vehicles that combine an electric drive with an internal combustion engine, are being promoted as strongly as they have been up to now. On the one hand, they offer an easy entry into electromobility- in the first half of 2021 alone, plug-in hybrids accounted for more than 50 percent of newly registered vehicles with electric drives. On the other hand, however, it is not clear how often they are used in electric mode and the actual climate benefit is therefore completely unclear. This slows down both electromobility and the development of new design concepts.

How could movement come into the design of new forms??

We still don’t have a full grasp of electromobility. This means that we don’t yet know exactly where the journey is actually going, i.e. what the drive of the future will look like. Whether it’s battery cells, supercapacitors or, in the end, hydrogen- there is still too much uncertainty for the car industry. In addition to these external conditions, however, the internal attitude must also change: we must say goodbye to the myths of size and speed that have so far played a decisive role in determining the shape of cars. In urban areas in particular, these ideas are no longer of any use, because there is little space and progress is usually relatively slow. We have to break with these patterns in our thoughts that would accelerate changes in car design.

What could the car design of the future look like??

An aerodynamic shape is only necessary from a speed of about 80 kilometers per hour onwards. Since this limit is rarely exceeded in urban areas, more homely design concepts could be sought here in the future. That, and the fact that fewer technical elements are needed than in a combustion engine, opens up completely new spatial possibilities. An example: think of the expensive housing in munich-schwabing. Numerous cars are parked unused in front of the door each occupies about 10 square meters of space, the equivalent of a small room, room value converted to about 100.000 euro. If we understand the car more as a mobile space and change the design accordingly, it could also be seen as a gain in living space. A car-like study or playroom would be fundamentally compatible with electromobility.

If one goes a step further in the direction of autonomous driving, these ideas can be expanded even further: in principle, it could be possible here, for example, that one sits in the car in the evening, "Berlin" type in a button and the car will drive autonomously at 50 kilometers per hour while you watch a movie or just sleep. The classic arrangement inside the car, with seats facing the front of the vehicle, would then no longer be necessary. Instead, a sofa or a bed, for example, would have a place in the car a vision that the architect le corbusier formulated as long as 90 years ago.

When could such ideas become reality??

It is difficult to say. It will certainly take several decades before the streetscape as we know it now has changed completely. To achieve this, a number of technical and political preconditions must first be created, but above all it requires the courage to have visions. And even if these preconditions are all in place: from the point of view of private customers, Germany lacks the purchasing power to create a completely new image on the roads by the end of 2030. On the other hand, if a disruptive development like the smartphone is set in motion, mobility and car design could also change much faster than we can foresee now.

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