To date trends in car design have tended to have come from the west. But, after a few short years of catch-up, we now have the first major car design trend to have come from China: New Age Chinese Electric Design: ‘NACED’. And we don’t just mean that there are now lots of new Chinese electric car designs; we mean that there is now a discernibly new type of electric car design, and that this is coming from China.
The first cars over a hundred years ago were called ‘horse-less carriages’ because they looked like the original horse-drawn carriage with no horse. The ‘motor carriage’ — the ‘motor-car’, the ‘car’ — then evolved in the way it accommodates its internal-combustion engine and ancillary technical elements along with people and their stuff to today’s super refined design solution. Now as the ‘motor-car’ evolves to the ‘electric-car’ so it is also repeating the design pattern of its forbearer: with few exceptions today’s electric-cars look like normal petrol or diesel powered car designs, just as the first cars looked like ‘horseless-carriages’. Even Tesla, the poster-child of the electric-car, has a portfolio of designs that look much like normal cars, albeit now with front aspects that have no grilles despite presenting grille-like forms between and below their head-lights.
But the emergent new-age Chinese electric designs are not obfuscating what they might be. Nor are they carrying on a (branded) story of what they are as a lineage from what they used to be. NACED cars are the first wave of the next generation of electric car where the design authentically embraces proportions afforded by the distinct technical ingredients of an electric powertrain, and that realise a new form of digital UX design within the car aligned with electric-car use and user, and that express the qualities of being electric through exterior design. NACED cars are technically, experientially, and semantically electric in their design.
The first part of NACED, of having slightly different proportions from more holistically integrating their electrified technical elements, is evident in two core areas: shorter and lower ‘noses’ because they only have to house small electric motor(s) or ancillary technical components and not a large lump of a petrol engine; and slightly taller from having batteries in the floor between the axels (to keep their masses low and central for better handling) which pushes upwards everything above the floor and thus increasing the depth of the cabin and the car’s overall height — although within an SUV / Crossover design this may not be so evident.
The second part of NACED, of having a new form of digital user-experience design, can be seen with the monolithic TFT screens that dominate a visually simplified dashboard, and that incorporate key information about the status of the electric charge, advanced navigational functionality, and some form of AI enhanced services realised through a digital assistant. These are all features either key to electric car usage or aligned with most of today’s electric car users; they are what makes these designs experientially electric.
The third way that NACED is evident is in the exterior design and can be seen in both the calm and unified set of volumes and graphics with little ‘dive’ in the car’s elevation or complex surfacing or embellishment in its form; and also in the ‘grille-less’ front facia with full-width slender light and or upper aperture graphic flanked by slim lower vertical graphics. These all semantically speak of being electric in their reduced, clean and hi-tech aesthetic — the antithesis to the classical, sporty semantic of the petrol car…
As with any trend, NACED will be easier to see in a few year’s time looking back, but we can hold up several new production designs that wholly embrace every facet of this trend, concept designs that do also, and others that are getting close to having most of the ingredients of this design trend — and most of these are box-fresh designs; this really is a fast emergent design trend).
Making their auto-show production design debuts last month in Shanghai, the Enovate ME7, NE Aion Lx, Hozon U, Bordrin iV7, Lixiang One all have the three core design elements that define NACED: short noses (less so the Bordrin and Lixiang), UX dominating interiors, and reduced exterior design with that new electric face. The Aiways U7 (in near production form), Baojun RM-C, Leap C-More, Bestune T2, Roewe Vision I , Wey X and Haval Vision 2025 were concepts that had most of these NACED ingredients too. And Nio, Byton, Lucid, Faraday — and lesser known Xpeng, Bordrin — production cars all have most of these ingredients, if less emphatically so (Tesla has the proportions and UX focus, but not the exterior design).
New age Chinese electric design, NACED, a design trend that has come up very fast and looks set to continue to solidify. One which pertains to the super significant and influential electric crossover car type. And one which is almost wholly from China. We think this is a big deal.