Why Does Our Electric Future Look So Retro?

Why Does Our Electric Future Look So Retro?

Domantas Mizeikis

At the beginning of 2019, it is interesting to see what the future holds for us. Of course, EVs and autonomous vehicles still are the key trends. Oddly enough, some of these cars combine the cutting edge tech of tomorrow with design cues borrowed from the past. At first glance, it makes little sense, but these production moves are actually well calculated by the automakers.

We do not have to look far into the future to find some retro-inspired EVs – Honda’s cute city hatchback, now known as “Urban EV”, is a clear homage to the first-gen Civic and is set for production this year. A Swiss-Italian electric microcar Microlino is set to reach its customers in a near future and it is a clear nod to the charismatic BMW Isetta. Furthermore, VW is planning to shake-off their Dieselgate shame and roll out a VW T1-inspired I.D. BUZZ (a pun on VW Bus) in 2022. Why do they all feel that people want an electric vehicle with styling cues from the past? Well, I think a few things are happening here.

volkswagen vw i.d. buzz ev
I.D. Buzz is undoubtedly a lifestyle-oriented car
© Volkswagen
volkswagen vw i.d. buzz ev
The running gear is positioned down low provide more space and lower the center of gravity
© Volkswagen

First and foremost, there is vanity. If people are buying EVs, they want everyone to see that they are doing good for the Earth. Sure, they may be doing it for the plants and animals of the planet, but they also want other people to see their good deeds. Polar bears and rainforest trees cannot tell cars apart, but humans can, so manufacturers slap blue or green badging on their eco models, install intricate LED lights and different trim to make their EVs look like EVs. This is why Teslas so often become lifestyle items that are being used to communicate the altruistic nature of their drivers.

volkswagen vw i.d. buzz ev
Just like the original Bulli, this is expected to be a hit with surfers
© Volkswagen
volkswagen vw i.d. buzz ev
I.D. Buzz even has the vents resembling those of the T1
© Volkswagen

Of course, when the car has to be a lifestyle item, its appearance is extremely important, and retro styling definitely helps. Just think of all of the Fiat 500 drivers that give their cars names and photograph them for their Instagram. As an added benefit, the vintage touch aids selling the cars at a premium price, BMW’s MINI range is a prime example of that. And the extra cost is inevitable with all of the aforementioned electric cars due to their complicated and costly drivetrains.

Honda Urban EV concept
Compact packaging of electric running gear left a lot of designing freedom
© Honda
Honda Urban EV concept
Urban EV mimics the original Honda Civic
© Honda

Honda Urban EV concept
Honda Urban EV concept
© Honda
Honda Urban EV concept
Honda Urban EV concept
© Honda

Another reason why manufacturers are so eager to turn their EVs into retro-styled beauties is that it is very easy for them. With no conventional engine or drivetrain getting in the way, they can recreate the classic look effortlessly. For instance, take the VW I.D. Buzz. Volkswagen would have struggled to apply the classic proportions of their Bulli to any of their contemporary front-wheel-drive product. Modern safety features and tech amenities make the car packaging a real headache, something you may be well aware of if you had to change a lightbulb on a new car. Moving all of the drivetrains out of the way means a lot of free real estate within the I.D. Buzz, affording the designers to retain short overhangs of the T1 by tucking most of the componentry within the wheelbase. Smaller cars like Urban EV or Microlino also benefit from flexible packaging of their electric running gear by providing more space for the passengers.

Microlino EV
First Microlinos will reach their customers this spring
© Micro-Mobility
Microlino EV
Microlino even borrows the iconic “refrigerator door” from the Isetta
© Micro-Mobility

Even if you enjoy piloting an old-fashioned dinosaur-burning automobile on your leisure time, electric cars make a lot of sense in urban environments. Inevitably, we are going to see more and more of them in our streets and I think it is great that the automakers bring some flair when designing their electric vehicles. And if you are a person who is still not satisfied with the run of the mill EVs, you can also convert a classic to run on electrons.

Microlino EV
Electric drivetrain frees up the interior space
© Micro-Mobility

Microlino EV
Electric drivetrain frees up the interior space
© Micro-Mobility

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