Friday, April 10, 2015

Kids and the i-MiEV

I think Dr. Seuss had a hand in designing the newer electric cars (except for the Tesla, which has serious Jaguar design influences).  I drive the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which is odd-looking at best.  And the Nissan Leaf is no better.  And BMW tried to give the new electric i3 a real sense of style, but missed the mark in my opinion.  While the Fiat 500 has a little bit of cute-ness going for it, its cramped rear quarters makes it an impractical choice for many.  And the Think City, the Scion iQ, and the Smart are just as peculiar to look at.  Surely these cars are examples of Dr. Seuss’ design works.  At least the i-MiEV has an ample interior.  A number of my passengers have remarked how they were surprised that the car has as much interior space for how short it is outside.  And, with four doors, that interior space is easy to get to.  (The i3 is similarly useful inside.)  But it seems that the biggest fans of this car are kids.

Dr. Suess' design influences
Dr. Suess' design influences
I have a niece and nephew (seven and five years old) who actually enjoy the car and its funky look on short trips.  They call it the “Purple Car”, which is the same color as their favorite afternoon hangout in San Jose - the "Purple Building" (also known as the Children's Discovery Museum).  Sometimes they call the car the “funny car” – I’m guessing because of its looks.  Of course funny car is both a compliment and a slap in the face from them.  Funny is endearing and welcoming, which I believe was Dr. Seuss’ goal in the design of all of his characters and their possessions.  The only problem here is that the people forking out hard-earned money for these cars are no longer children.
The BMW i3's awkward styling

Here is my theory on why electric cars look so off from normal.  Most normal looking cars attract a lot of buyers.  Sexy looking cars attract buyers in droves.  Only the price of these sleek looking sedans keeps the buyers at bay.  So, why aren’t electric cars sexy looking and affordable?  Manufacturers can only build so many electric cars in their early production runs (typically fewer than 10,000).  So, they need to reduce the demand for these cars.  There are two approaches: raise the price or mess with the looks.  Unfortunately, early electric car buyers have been very value savvy, so a jacked up price had better offer superior value (which is very hard to deliver).  So, rather than following Tesla’s expensive lead, manufacturers follow the alternative and lean on styling to dissuade most buyers.  Only those drivers with a sturdy constitution can find themselves heading down the street in a bug-eyed, Picasso-styled driving machine, allowing the manufacturers to meet the demand comfortably.  I expect that the volume electric vehicles to come next will be much easier to look at and be seen in.  (Check out the Chevy Bolt.)

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