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Do the Terms ‘Hybrid’ and ‘Fuel Efficient’ Have to Equate Odd/Bad Design?

Posted in Design, Electric Cars, Hybrid by will bee | April 29th, 2008 | 3 Responses |

hybrid car

…That is the question that many people are asking. While design taste and preferences are truly a matter of preference, and to some design falls second or third to utility or performance, an appealing design will make or break a vehicle.

One modern day, non-hybrid design that exemplifies bad design and a sales flop is the Pontiac Aztec.
pontiacaztek.jpg picture by willfusion
While picking on the Aztek at this time is a little off topic in that it is not a Hybrid it is still a prime example of what happens when design fails function. Although the car has been out of production for years Pontiac is still able to sell new Azteks from their stockpile of “New” cars that never sold. In 2007 they sold 25 Azteks.

The concern today turns toward the hybrid and ultra fuel sippers that are growing in demand as gas prices continue to climb. Europeans have been enduring high gas prices for decades and on a whole adjusted their shopping to what they could afford, smaller cars and diesels, a long time ago. After a solid 15 years of SUV mania in the states it is difficult to break those shopping habits along with the feelings of need for utility and safety associated to SUV’s. And believe me, the American auto industry was more than happy to sell those marked-up SUV’s to a thirsting populace. So much so that during that 15 year span of SUV mania cars nearly slipped off the radar in the design and board rooms. Now that another fuel crisis is upon us and new technologies are advancing the auto industry is having to rethink just what the Car will become. …And that in turn is leading to some interesting, odd and sometimes quirky autos.

Follow the Leap for analysis on 10 designs that represent the Hybrid-Electric-Fuel Efficient market.

The number one selling hybrid the past decade has been the Toyota Prius.
toyotaprius.jpg picture by willfusion

Not only is the Toyota Prius a winner on the sales floor, but for Toyota the car has the brand recognition that any company would crave. When you see a Prius, like it or not, you KNOW it is a Prius. It is the cream of the crop for the elite Green car shopper as it has received much recognition in Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio drives one himself. There is almost a level of Green Snobbery associated to the Prius. So why is everyone in America not driving a Prius?

Well, for starters, as with any polarizing design there are those that are magnetically drawn to is and those that are magnetically repulsed by it. To an automobile traditionalist the Prius may appear too funky for daily driving, despite its obvious fuel mileage benefits. It is not bad design, just polarizing.

Honda has put out a few hybrid designs.
The Honda Insight was their first hybrid effort, and like the Prius the Insight was a polarizing design. However, for whatever reason, the market did not embrace the Insight – whether it was the two doors vs. four doors, power, appearance it just did not win over the market. Honda also attempted to convert already existing models in their line-up into hybrid variants. Both the Civic and the Accord came out in Hybrid form, but only the Civic remains available. The failure for the Honda Accord was that the fuel mileage barely rivaled the gasoline powered alternative and cost considerably more in hybrid form. The Civic is performing adequately, but still cannot compete with the Prius in sales.
Honda has a couple hybrid concepts that are working their way onto showroom floors in the future. The Honda CR-Z gives the “hybrid” look in its design and Honda hopes to win over some buyers.

General Motors is working diligently on an all Electric vehicle with their Volt Concept.
chevyvolt.jpg picture by willfusion

GM has put a lot of work-hours into keeping their launch date of 2010 for the Volt Concept. While the design shows signs that it is not your ordinary gas powered car, it still maintains a familiar shape that may attract the average car buyer. The Volt, in concept form, is a far less polarizing in appearance than many other hybrid or electric vehicles, and only time will tell if the car in its final form will reach an appreciative buying audience. What GM hoped would be the EV for the middle-class may turn out to be something a bit higher. The current outlook is that the MSRP for a Volt will be in the neighborhood of $40,000.

Another all electric vehicle receiving a lot of attention is the Tesla Roadster.
teslaroadster.jpg picture by willfusion
The Tesla roadster maintained a small, Lotus look to it that immediately appeals to a lot of roadster shoppers. However, at a price nearing $100,000 it is not a car that is aimed toward the middle-class, and that is okay. Not everything has to be for the average driver. The Tesla roadster at least exemplifies that not all hybrid, EV or ultra fuel efficient vehicles have to be quirky to garner attention.

One car that would garner attention with any motive source is the Fisker Karma.
fiskerkarma.jpg picture by willfusion

Drawing on the inspiration of many Italian designs the Fisker Karma is a “Looker” to put it mildly. The all electric design brings a sense of elegance to the EV market, and with that elegance again comes a price. Reaching over the $100,000 price point the Fisker Karma is not likely to be found in a many of your neighbors garages. With the Fisker Karma a level of grace has been introduced into the EV market that was not there before.

When it comes to the TH!NK City EV, grace is not exactly its primary concern.
thinkcity_003.jpg picture by willfusion

The TH!NK Citygives credence to the peculiar and could very well be the next Volkswagen Beetle if sales go right. No, not that Volkswagen is going to rebadge the Norwegian companies EV as a Beetle, but that its popularity could find an accepting market during a time of economic crunch and high fuel prices. At a sub-$20,000 price the TH!NK City may be the most attainable of the new EV’s and in 2009 we will get the chance to see. That is when the TH!NK City will enter the California market.

Volvo has its own little teaser for a Plug-in Hybrid based on their new C30 design.
volvoc30plugin.jpg picture by willfusion

The Volvo C30 came out in late 2007 and was influenced by a bit of history in regards to the large rear-hatch window. Otherwise the car is based on the S40 sedan that has been a pretty good design in sales for Volvo. It may not be the design that is holding back the sales of the C30, but more its price. At $28,000 buyers may be more tempted by the S40 sedan at the same price. A plug-in hybrid variant of the same car however may work to win over more curious shoppers, as long as the mark-up does not put it too far out of range. Either way the design of the C30 certainly draws attention.

Another car that certainly draws attention in small spurts is the Smart ForTwo
smartfortwo.jpg picture by willfusion

The Smart ForTwo could certainly classify as a micro-car and for some it may remind them of the Penny Racers of their youth. For some it is a standout design that attracts the right kind of attention to the growing market of small cars, and to others it is a micro death trap (perception, ofcourse). In buying a Smart ForTwo you are certainly enforcing the old adage that Less is More.

So in the analysis of a number of hybrid, EV and fuel efficient vehicles that are either currently available or soon to be have we answered the question at all? Do those automotive buzz words have to equate odd or bad design? As the new technologies of an EV or hydrogen age develop they will certainly alter the way we drive and the way we look at cars. Designs like the Prius and the Smart ForTwo do put a curious face on fuel efficiency and draw a lot of attention to the cause, but it may be designs like the GM Volt and the Fisker Karma that will work to convert the average shopper (given the right price) from their gas guzzling vehicles over to the land of electric motivation.

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3 Responses

  1. Brad says:

    While there are some nice looking cars in this line up, there are also some pretty ugly ones, but I do fancy that Volvo.

    I can see aerodynamics being a factor in being able to achieve those higher mpg numbers… but I don’t think that means you have to drive around in an Egg.

    Being different is good, but being ugly is just unnecessary.

    And what the hell is with all the new rounded designs but squared off on the seams… its one thing to have a nice natural line to the car… but no need to chisel it out. Sleek is sexy! Tesla *drool* … you can keep the Volt.

  2. gizmos says:

    We are looking at hybrids and what we really want is a van. Toyota has a van in Japan but it hasn’t made it’s way here yet. Unfortunately I am sure the price will be outrageous. What I don’t like about the Prius is the appearance (YUK!) and the inside is very basic other than the LED of course. I am also concerned that the huge speodmeter under the windshield will blind me at night. The seats are barely comfortable in the back, reminiscent of $11,000 car interiors.

  3. jordan says:

    Yeah, that Volvo is pretty cool. The cord looks funny sticking out of the front like that. Although I must admit that fatherhood has made me look for 4 doors!