Electric Cars Need Sex Appeal; the Tesla Roadster's Got It

As electric cars move from garage conversions into mass production over the next few years, public adoption could be held back by something more crippling than battery technology: the notion that electric cars are no more than unattractive golf carts.

A large part of the public perceive the electric cars they've seen so far as...ugly. Using the law of Google popularity--where the higher the number of search results, the more common an item is--the words "Ugly Electric Car" trail only 356,000 results behind the words "Sexy Electric Car."

And the sad truth is, that public perception is not unfounded.

2008 chrysler gem peapod ev 005

2008 chrysler gem peapod ev 005

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Renault Twizy

Renault Twizy

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Bruce Richter drives the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

Bruce Richter drives the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

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Bruce Richter drives the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

Bruce Richter drives the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

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Horror shows: GEM, Tango, Twizy

While practical for their intended purpose, neighborhood electric vehicles such as the GEM Peapod, with its arched roof and 35-mph (56 km/h) top speed, have fueled the argument that electric cars simply cannot be made attractive.

Defendants of electric cars might cite the neck-snapping performance of such beauties as the Commuter Cars Tango, which would only get more laughter. Talk about "fighting fire with marshmallows".

Beyond there, things get just plain weird. Take the certifiably hideous concept car called the Renault Twizy. This little monster comes with pentagonal tire covers and a bubble-shaped roof, looking like nothing so much as a mobility scooter with a personality disorder.

While private individuals and small start-ups have tried to produce attractive electric cars, they've never managed to whet more than a handful of appetites.

The reasonably good looking T-Zero from AC Propulsion looks fairly appealing, yet still has such design quirks as a windscreen left over from the British TV cartoon "Thunderbirds", and a trunk that appears to have been left in the sun too long.

Salvation at hand

But salvation is at hand. The electric car world can finally breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to the 2009 Tesla Roadster. That fast, sleek sports car has single-handedly rescued the international image of electric vehicles from complete destruction.

Some of the thanks are owed to the English car maker Lotus, which created some the understructure for the Tesla Roadster. The similarities in design are obvious when you put a 2010 Tesla Roadster next to a 2010 Lotus Elise.

The Tesla's lines are sleek and the body hugs the road. Everything from the rear buttresses to the hood has been carefully designed--and it shows.

Award winner

The humble electron-eater won the BusinessWeek Best Product Design award of 2007, and the coveted International Design Excellence (INDEX) award in 2008.

Perhaps most impressively for the electric car world, the Tesla made it into the Forbes "Best Cars for 2006" category, under the title: "New car that best lived up to the hype".

Pricey show pony

The down side to the Tesla Roadster is the price tag: At $109,000, Joe and Jane Public aren't going to be slipping behind the wheel of one of these puppies any time soon.

Still, after decades of being a nothing but a comedy routine, the electric car world finally has a show pony--and a yardstick--it can be proud of.

Now about those battery costs ....

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Comments (14)
  1. Great article - I like the writer. Comprehensive and informative. Keep it up.

  2. While I'm not usually one to comment on the works of spiky haired New Zealanders (Google!), but Gavin does have a point. It would be great if we weren't all so enamored with the look of a car and could just appreciate a good, economical ride. Basically I see the Tesla as the token blonde beauty queen meant to distract the testosterone fueled car bloggers while the rest of us enjoy more practical (and affordable) electric cars.
    I must say "fight fire with marshmallows" does pretty much sum up the defense...

  3. I enjoyed reading the article - the writer kept it simple yet informative with a dash of humour. Will look for more by this writer.

  4. Indeed, Gav! Great read; thanks.

  5. Great read. Thanks, Gav.

  6. i gotta agree with jer. driving sans petroleum is rewarding enough. every EV is automatically sexy by definition - no matter what the design. that said, the tesla roadster has been monumental and has already drastically changed public perception. thumbs up to tesla for leading the way during this most recent wave of electrics. it seems that EVs are finally here to stay...

  7. Gav: Well written piece. No sheep jokes, though. I guess that comes in later posts as you get more comfortable.

  8. Witty and enjoyable commentary as usual Gavin. I almost never read through an entire blog but I can confidently say I read at least 80% of this, and chuckled more than once.

  9. You're all naughty. I'll try and slip in a sheep joke in the next article then. ;)

  10. I want a Tesla now! But I don't like the price. Maybe there's money to be made retrofitting the Toyota MR2 electrically? There's enough donor cars about at cheap prices.

  11. To me, all of the cars except the Tango are outdated, poorly shaped, bloated space wasters.
    94% of all commuters drive alone. 99.9% of all people commute with 1 or 2 people in the car. If you don't believe it, do an informal study next time you're commuting. That means that during their commute, the entire right side of their cars have no utility.
    The shape of the Tango is far more important that the fact that it is an electric car. Since it's safe from tipping over, the use and the manufacture of narrow cars could revolutionize auto transportation.
    Don't let the millions of brain numbing images and empty advertising slogans fool you from your better sense - It's a matter of perspective: No cars look sexy in a traffic jam. Think about the opening scene in "Office Space" where a man with a walker is going faster than the main character in his car on his way to work. Narrow cars like the Tango make the most sense on our roads.
    Check out Jay Leno interviewing Rick Woodbury, the inventor of the Tango:

  12. good one neighbour,you got what it takes,"no suprises there mate".

  13. Great article Gav. Keep up the informative articles.

  14. what a sexy car! haha i wonder how the auto parts fitted inside that little car it seems look like a smart car

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