BACK TO THE FUTURE?

New cars are electrifying audiences, Francesca takes the Journey


By Francesca Vine: Arts Columnist


There has perhaps never been a vehicle launch more controversial than the unveiling of the Tesla Cybertruck. As the stage lights gradually illuminated the truck in sections, many people thought that it was a joke, a prank and the real truck was about to be wheeled out in its stead. Nothing like a normal pick-up truck in appearance: its sharp angular lines and stainless-steel body gave it the look of a futuristic mini-tank. The marmite design sharply divided opinions with one motoring journalist describing it as “the ugliest thing to ever roll across the Earth”; whereas others seemingly loved the Blade Runner-inspired styling and reservations topped 250,000 within a week of the event.

So, how did electric cars become so exciting, divisive, desirable and surrounded by hype? Only a very few years ago, they were perceived very differently. Pre-2010, electric vehicles had been mainly limited to concept-cars or compliance-cars which were later withdrawn and crushed. They had a very low range and many, such as the Honda EV Plus, were small and decidedly unattractive. Much-deprecated and the subject of many ‘milk-float’ jokes, electric vehicles were still seen as highly undesirable around the time of the Nissan LEAF’s release in 2010.

On the surface, the original LEAF seemed similar to its predecessors, small, fairly low-range (73 miles) and very slow to charge (regaining about 5 miles of range per hour) – an ideal ‘Granny-car’ for pottering into town and back. However, it became an unexpected success, only surpassed as the all-time best-selling electric car in early 2020 by the Tesla Model 3. Its decade-long dominance of the electric car market can be explained, perhaps, by Nissan’s deliberate attempt to make the LEAF as similar to a regular car as possible to appeal to purchasers. It had a 5-door hatchback design with a surprisingly spacious boot, achieved by placing the heavy and bulky battery below the main cabin of the car. It was praised for “hit[ting] the mainstream like none of its predecessors.”

Originally slated to start production in 2009, the Tesla Model S finally burst onto the electric car market in 2012, radically shifting perceptions of electric vehicles, again. A full-size luxury car, it had a very decent range of 208 miles for the basic model and 265 miles for the larger battery. In terms of styling, it slotted neatly into the executive car market with a sleek and elegant design by Franz von Holzhausen. Perhaps most radically, the buttons on a regular car’s dash had all been replaced with a simple touch-screen tablet, which appealed to the younger, more tech-savvy consumer.

With the advent of car tech, Maps are seldom needed in 2020

Since then, a range of EVs have emerged. The Rimac Concept One supercar debuted in 2013 with extremely limited production numbers. To rival Tesla’s Model X and Model Y luxury SUVs, Jaguar’s I-Pace began deliveries in 2018 and within a year became one of the most highly decorated production cars ever, winning 62 awards, including European Car of the Year Award, the first Jaguar to win in its 50-year history. Also stepping into that market is Audi’s rather unfortunately named e-tron, its first mass-produced electric car, which began deliveries in 2019 and used links to superhero movies such as Avengers and Spider-Man in its marketing. To rival to Tesla’s Model S, Porche released the Taycan, its first series production electric car, whose interior design features the same screen-based interface and whose exterior styling, by Mitja Borkert, heavily apes the original 911. It has now been selected by Automobile for their 2020 Design of the Year award.

It seems clear that in 2020, then, the electric car is no longer a ‘Granny-car’, but rather, the and sportscar and luxury vehicle of the future.

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