Three concept cars from three premium brands announced at the same time. All super low, club-racer-like single seaters that push a message of next generation emotive electric high-performance. Designs akin perhaps to the New Romantic movement that usurped punk in the music scene forty years ago - designs that offer a more engaging and luscious interpretation of future electrified cars instead of the current electric car focus on mould breaking technical and functional design.
In automotive terms California is most renowned for its custom car culture with a bandwidth from dragster to Singer. In recent years the region has made most contribution to the automotive design discipline with Tesla and other 'Car 2.0' tech-based start-ups such as the Faraday FF91, the Byton M-Byte - which in turn step from a legacy of the late nineties hybrids, the GM EV1 and some of the rarities like the Aptera; all designs pushing the boundaries of possibility with rationalist future facing approaches.
But last week in Monterey at the Pebble Beach Concours de Elegance we are seeing a Californian design statement of a different type; one that steps from the region's uniquely high concentration of upper echelon classic cars and associated car design culture.
From Audi is the world's lowest (1.15m) shooting-break: the PB18 e-tron Concept replete with a single seat that can move from side to side (to allow space for a passenger when not in centre-seat race mode) and large active rear spoiler that transforms the car's appearance. Arguably still the most 'punk' of all these 'New Romantic designs', but then it's also far more emotive than previous e-tron concepts.
The Prototype 10 Concept presented at Pebble Beach is the first Infiniti design seen since Karim Habib become Executive Design Director; a more reduced and controlled design than the German cars with calm but voluptuous wrapping volumes sat within crisp straight boundary lines running on x, y, and z axis's — and exquisite metal fluting within its apertures. Fleek, but with substance too.
Mercedes Benz with the Vision EQ Silver Arrow Concept is perhaps the most explicitly 'New Romantic' design in the way it pays homage to the 1937 W125 record breaker car and pushes an idea of 'Progressive Luxury' within its broader 'Sensual Purity' design strategy. Rose gold wheel spokes, extensive use of non-functional lighting, and the micro-graphic of three-pointed star on the tyres and seat leather fits with the post punk, post first-generation of electric car concepts.
These three designs all show how electrification can open doors to the heart as well as the head; they are unashamedly about emotively engaging with the car community. And maybe this makes them 'New Romantic' designs...
In the late 1970s and early 1980s music scene several bands came to the fore as a reaction to the harshness of punk with a softer style that referenced some of the colourful themes from Romanticism (the artistic, literary and intellectual movement in Europe at the end of the 18th century) - hence the name of this genre: 'New Romantics'. Just as these New Romantics eschewed the raw, innovative, honesty of punk, so these three Californian concepts go beyond the functionally innovative 'product' orientated design approach that has much come to define electrified cars to-date, to introduce post-functional aero elements, illumination that adds value beyond utility, voluptuous form, and the extravagance of single seat cockpits.
Maybe this trio of concepts are mere flights-of-fancy, but that they all arrive with much the same message from three separate brands at the same time suggests that maybe there is some zeitgeist at work here — that future electrified cars are set to be more emotive luxury-performance cars — the type of cars beloved of Californians, and much of the wider world.