Modern EVs and retro design – does the mash-up make sense?
It used to be that electric cars took on an outlandish, overtly futuristic look. It served to separate EVs from the crowd of internal combustion engine-powered vehicles. Think about the introduction of the first-generation Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, or the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Even consider the falcon-winged Tesla Model X when it arrived and its grille-less front end. They’re all designs that would be considered left of center – a little too bold and eccentric for most common car buyers’ tastes.
Then the Tesla Model S arrived, as did the second-gen Nissan LEAF and the Chevrolet Bolt EV. There is a couple dozen electric vehicles available to the average consumer, most with rather traditional styling. That’s to say they aren’t vastly different from their stablemates. The Hyundai Kona EV, Ford Focus Electric, Fiat 500e, and VW e-Golf are all electrified versions of a gas-powered model.
Retro designs for EVs?
But now, retro designs are all the rage for EV concepts. Isn’t that just a paradox – state-of-the-art technology and forward-thinking EV efficiencies that throwback to a day when emissions, fuel savings, and environmental friendliness weren’t even an afterthought!
Alas, it’s true. Several EVs are taking their high-MPGe powertrains and fitting them into retro-styled bodies. These are just a few concepts that have done so.
Honda Urban EV Concept
Honda plans to produce a throwback to the 70’s-styled first-generation Honda Civic. Called the Honda Urban EV, it’s a cute two-door hatchback that’s immediately going to draw more than its fair share of attention. The squarish, boxy look is obviously updated with tech inside including the possibility of an ultrawide screen mounted on the dash. The cutesy vintage modern look is misleading because the Urban EV is slated to be priced nearer the premium side of things.
Jaguar E-Type Zero
This isn’t what you’d typically think of an electric car with a retro twist. Picture a pristine 1961 Jaguar E-Type with chrome trim and wire-spoke wheels. But instead of an inline-6 gas motor, there’s a lithium ion powertrain tucked under the bonnet. The soft-top convertible cruises silently down the highway. A plus Jaguar interior is modernized with an in-dash screen and digital round gauges but still has a wooden steering wheel. The Jaguar E-Type Zero is available from Jaguar Classic Works and is no longer just a concept.
Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept
It’s been confirmed by Volkswagen AG that the I.D. Buzz will be in production come 2022. The I.D. Buzz was the Show Car of the Year at the Detroit Motor Show, turning heads with its throwback styling. It looks like Buzz Lightyear and a 60’s microbus were mashed up, taking on a groovy visage. You can just imagine pastel flowers painted on the side. Fully electrified and on a brand-new VW platform, the I.D. Buzz becomes an EV with space for more than a few people.
A rifle maker is taking a shot over Tesla’s bow. Kalashnikov, best known for manufacturing assault rifles, has built a concept electric car they’ve coined CV-1. The concept is powder blue and looks much like the diminutive Russian cars in Bond films decades ago, down to the horizontal wire grille and flat side windows. While Kalashnikov calls it a ‘supercar’, the CV-1’s 90kWh battery pack provides 220 miles of range and 0-to-60mph acceleration in 6 seconds, far short of the Tesla Model S they claim to compete against.
MW Motors Luka EV
Another overseas creation is from Czech Republic-based MW Motors. The Luka EV is a retro-looking coupe is distinctly different from anything else because there is no central electric motor. Each of the four-wheel hubs integrates a 16-hp electric motor, creating a very unique AWD situation. The MW Motors Luka EV is a low-powered car with a range of 186 miles and a top speed of 90 miles per hour. Inside, it’s packed with carbon fiber, a digital cluster, and tech you wouldn’t expect from a retro car.
Takayanagi Miluira EV
This EV goes way back. Way, way back to the first cars, while horses still pulled carriages too. The Miluira looks to be turn-of-the-19th-century and has an open cabin with a plush white seat like grandma has in the living room. Capable of just 37 miles per hour and a range of only 22 miles, it’s evident this car is bespoke and will not be a mass-produced model.
Does the retro-EV mash-up work?
Is it just trendy to create throwbacks to days gone by as a publicity stunt, or is it good for the automotive industry? It can work both ways.
For EVs like the I.D. Buzz and the Honda Urban EV, there’s more than just retro style that goes into the project. These models trigger emotions among a demographic of car buyers: people who owned the original decades ago, or, wanted to at least. It’s a great way to connect a generation that loves the looks of older cars with new technology and green transportation options.
But if you swing too far to the left, you find yourself as an outlier. Vehicles like the Kalashnikov CV-1 and the MW Motors Luka EV don’t stand a chance in the mass market, even if they could take it that far. Simply put, there’s not enough substance to connect the car to buyers – certainly not in North America.
And for the Jaguar E-Type Zero – well, as much as everyone wants it, it’s not a practical vehicle for everyday driving in most families. Kudos on the flawless design work though, Jaguar.
Expect to see automakers bringing familiar faces to their liveries as electric vehicles ramp-up in production. These retro designs are a great way to bring long-time car owners into the EV fold with styles people recognize. But let’s keep the ‘retro’ within reason, shall we?