2011 Nissan Leaf SLEnlarge Photo
They are of course talking baloney. We aren't living in the 1980s any more, where cars were differentiated largely by the badge on the front, their lines dictated by ruler and set-square. Today's automotive tapestry is a rich one.
But where are all the beautiful electric cars? What happened to the concept of automotive aesthetics, and why does it seem to have deserted the electric car industry? We've had enough, which is why we've come up with a list of themes we no longer want to see variations on.
It's certainly not a claim that can be leveled solely at electric cars, but with so few on the market the industry will fight a losing battle if it can't come up with designs that people desire.
1) The glorified golf cart
Moduléo adaptable electric car, 2011 Geneva Motor ShowEnlarge Photo
Europe churned out tiny, attractively styled, chic little vehicles in their thousands back in the 1960s. Think Fiat's original 500, or the Austin Mini, as perfect examples. We know the retro look isn't the be-all and end-all of design, but surely some of that flair could be applied to today's tiny EVs, with the modern conveniences and safety we need? Personal mobility shouldn't also mean universal ridicule.
2) A Transformer half way through its transformation
Just as lack of style is a sin, so is trying too hard. Odd proportions and unusual surfaces don't make your electric cars look cool, they make them look broken. Tone it down, work on the details, and maybe you'll sell a few more. How many cars do you see on the road with half a dozen different materials and colors spread across them? Exactly. It's not a gap in the market, there is no market for the gratuitously weird.
3) Race car rejects
There's definitely something to be said for wowing the world with an electric car that outperforms a gasoline one, but if you're really trying to achieve commercial success, why design a car that looks like it should be on the grid at Le Mans? Most people interested in that kind of look will want a regular, noisy, gas-guzzling engine beneath the bodywork, so you immediately alienate your two biggest potential markets. If you want to make a fast EV, design a proper sports car. You can can make any shape you like with fiberglass, so make it an attractive one.
4) The 1990s sedan
2011 Coda Sedan at Hertz Global EV rental launch, New York City, December 2010Enlarge Photo
5) The "meh"
Cars that make you go, "meh"? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, but we certainly know people for whom the Nissan Leaf leaves them feeling cold. It's a fairly standard car, spacious and practical with good aerodynamics, but it also has a big, bulbous nose and a bit of a fat bottom. It's certainly not the prettiest car on the market, and it wouldn't have taken many more swishes of the designer's pencil to make a genuinely attractive car (Nissan itself managed with the ESFLOW concept, so we know the potential is there).
There will undoubtedly be people who disagree with the above, and that's absolutely fine. Beauty is the most subjective of all concepts.
But when you're given a clean sheet to come up with the next electric car, there's no excuse for using that opportunity to design something dull, needlessly quirky or just plain ugly.
Please, car manufacturers and electric car startups - just give us a car that looks amazing. You can forgive so many flaws in a car if it looks great sitting on your driveway. Tesla gets it - sure, the price of a Roadster or the upcoming Model S might be above the reach of many, but you'd buy one if you could.
All we need is for someone to make a regular electric car that you'd genuinely desire. It shouldn't be about making a statement, it should be about making an electric car you'd want to drive. It can't be too much to ask. Can it?