Driving the future: The most exciting sustainable transport ideas
The Battista is an electric hypercar from Automobili Pininfarina – the illustrious Italian design studio’s car arm. This €2m expressive car pushes vehicle design and engineering to its limits. The similarly valued Lotus Evija (below image) offers equally extreme e-performance as well as a pretty phenomenal battery range of 250 miles. These cars are clearly not created for the masses, yet what they signify is the highest forms of engineering and intelligent application of materials to include nimble carbon fibre monocoque structures usually seen in motor racing for stronger yet lighter vehicles that are therefore faster, more efficient and kinder to the environment. The Battista and Evija are also brilliant showcases for the possibilities of vehicle design, which can feel trapped in a traditional mould.
As a branding studio, we take in the overall landscape of design and of innovation, and of how this relates to consumer culture. In many ways, 2019 felt like a pivotal one for the automotive industry. Provoked largely by tech companies, mainstream carmakers mustered the courage to take the giant leap towards electrification, as well as introduce cutting-edge tech to ease consumers into autonomous driving. From a branding perspective, it has been fascinating to observe how some carmakers are beginning to realise that they could benefit greatly from being mobility providers – transport brands rather than makers of vehicles. And this is going to require a big shift in the mindset of the more traditional makers who will have to reassess all business matters, be it the skills they will require from their employees, how they market and sell cars, and of course brand positioning.
Tesla has been pretty much at the forefront of the new electric age of the motor car. It is the quintessential agitator brand. Tesla’s Model S, X, 3 and soon Y, break away from the conventions of vehicle interior design, user experience and how the driver interacts with the car, to be more of an electric gadget. And 2019 saw a slew of progressive products responding to the Tesla push. Of particular note is Polestar, Volvo Group’s new ecological performance car arm. In contrast to the vehicle design drama of, say, the Battista and Evija, the high-performance Polestar 1 and urban commuter Polestar 2 are all about visually expressing the technical brilliance of these electric cars. Even more exciting is Polestar’s latest Precept concept (above image) which previews a Polestar 3 and explores these cutting-edge ideas further. The concept car’s interior is a canvas of imaginative sustainable ideas, many of which are being used for the first time in vehicle design – 3D-knitted plastic bottles, cork and fishing nets surface the seats, headrests and carpets, while lightweight flax-based composite materials form the seat-backs.
Then on a more conceptual level, the 2019 Bentley EXP100 set out to signal grand luxury in the age of electric, self-driving cars. The elegant design also showcases material applications and sustainable fabrics that break away from the conventional language of luxury. Equally, the Lexus LF-30 is a visionary prototype with some unusual material ideas such as charred cedar used in the floor and steering controller, and recycled metal which has been processed into fibres to create the pleated door trim. Even more explorative are the fleet of Audi’s AI: concepts. The AI being artificial intelligence, these products speculate the needs and wants of future transport. Thus the AI:ME is self-driving interactive urban run-around and the Pop.Up Next a flying taxi. Similarly, BMW is evaluating the future too through the Vision iNext, and Mercedes via the EQ research cars.
A big trend, and one that appears to have firmly hit the urban zeitgeist, are small electrically-propelled transport ideas. The ever-popular electric adult scooter genre has had particular attention with some promising products to be launched this year. We particular like the Audi e-tron Scooter which rides like a skateboard. Others worth mentioning are the Seat Minimo electric quadricycle and Argo Design’s foldable Step Scooter. Then, Citroën’s Ami One has four wheels but resembles a personal gadget and is controlled by your smartphone, while the Clean Motion Zbee is a fleet of electric urban pods inspired by the auto-rickshaw. The RadRunner is an affordable, functional and fun e-motorbike and the NAWA Racer is a super-stylish café racer-inspired e-bike with cutting-edge tech. Elsewhere, retail giant Muji and Mizzi design studio gave us Gacha, the world’s first minimalist autonomous all-weather robotic shuttle bus.
We will still be sitting behind the wheels of conventional motor cars in the early 2020s. But there will be much progress behind the scenes in the design studios and tech labs. Some of the changes are not going to be as visually radical as promised, yet vehicles coming off production lines are cleaner, safer and so much smarter. And as consumer culture adapts to new forms of transport, the design community will have more freedom to express the language of clean, progressive mobility.
Images from top: Electric ID Buzz © VW; Lotus Evija’s venturi tunnels run through each rear quarter to aid performance © JW Photography; the Precept concept © Polestar; biometric seat technology in the Bentley EXP100 adapts to your driving mode © Oli Tennent; Gacha is an all-weather autonomous shuttle bus © Muji; the NAWA Racer e-motorbike has a compact hybrid battery and carbon fibre frame © NAWA Technologies; Audi e-tron Scooter rides like a skateboard © Audi. See some ideas on the future of urban design here