Tech Talk | Electric vehicles challenge ideas of what a car actually requires

The EV throws out all the preconceived ideas of what is required in a car. Picture: Shutterstock.
The EV throws out all the preconceived ideas of what is required in a car. Picture: Shutterstock.

In 2015 I visited the Mount Buller Alpine Resort. In summer. I attended the Australian MTB Summit and one session in particular stuck with me.

Scot Nicol, the founder of Ibis Bicycles, delivered a discussion on the future of MTB. In his early days of designing bikes, he had limited opportunity for different designs because the manufacturers all worked with alloys.

The tubing ran in straight lines and bicycles essentially ended up with two triangles. Form followed function.

Then along came carbon fibre. Ibis employed Roxy Lo, an industrial designer with no background in bicycles, as they wanted to have someone to imagine a bike for the first time without any preconceptions of what the design should look like.

As Scot told the story, "I asked Roxy to make the top tube a little lower and when Roxy asked what a top tube was, I knew we were on a winner."

Cars may well be at that same tipping point. From the time that Carl Benz applied for a patent for a motor vehicle in 1886, the vehicle development progressed along a path that involved an internal combustion engine connected to a gearbox which drove a driveshaft to power the wheels.

There also needed to be a container on the vehicle to store an explosive liquid. Sure, there have been variations on the theme but they were the basic working components.

Then along came an Electric Vehicle (EV) and, in much the same was as carbon fibre revolutionised the design of a mountain bike, the EV throws out all the preconceived ideas of what is required in a car.

A big, heat-generating, noisy engine? Gone! A fuel tank? Nope. A bump for a drive shaft? What a pain. Gearbox? Too many parts.

The design of an EV is raw simplicity. Put a motor at each wheel. Arrange the batteries in the floor or wherever convenient and the rest is open slather. Without an engine in the front and a petrol tank in the rear, you could move the driver or passengers to the front or back. Maybe put all the luggage space under the bonnet and have no boot at all.

Without a transmission hump in the middle of the car, the seats could slide around in different configurations depending on what you needed. Often the lead statistic is the range of an EV, but increasingly I believe the competition will be fought on features in the vehicle.

How about an electric vehicle with a power point both inside and out to power your ... microwave or hair dryer or computer? Already possible.

Do you knock your side mirrors when parking? Why not choose a model with virtual wing mirrors that use a camera to project the image onto a screen inside each door.

Don't like the idea of plugging in your car each week? Just like a phone with wireless charging, choose a car with wireless charging and then just park your car over the wireless charging pad. Like a cold drink on a trip? Some front trunk (frunk) spaces include small refrigerators.

If you don't like your current instrument cluster arrangement, then customise it just like you would your phone screen.

Sure, I understand that some of these features could have been created with a car powered by an internal combustion engine, but the EV revolution is changing the way we think about a car.

A smartphone on wheels may be a more accurate description and, after range, advanced electronics is what consumers are demanding.

Tell me how you would design an EV at ask@techtalk.digital.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist and futurist and the founder of several technology start-ups.