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These Are the Two Theories of EV Styling

I reviewed the Audi e-tron yesterday, and one of the things that surprises me most about the e-tron is its styling. The e-tron just looks like any other normal SUV on the market — it doesn’t have any weird lines or otherwise obvious touches that make it look like an electric vehicle.

The result of this is that most people driving along would never even know that it is, in fact, an electric vehicle — and the result of THIS is that people who buy the e-tron won’t get the social credit that comes from choosing an EV over a standard gas-powered car. Isn’t that a bad thing?

Not always. Some shoppers don’t want people to know they bought an EV — instead, they simply want to go on living life as normally as possible, except now their car plugs in at home or at work instead of fills up with gas at the pump. And this brings me to my topic, here, which is: there are two competing theories of EV styling.

Theory one is, of course, the “look at me” theory — and this is employed by most automakers who are creating electric vehicles. Most car brands think early EV adopters want people to know they’re going green, so they style EVs to look a bit different from normal cars — consider, for instance, cars like the original Nissan Leaf, the Toyota Prius (a hybrid, but the idea is the same) when it first came out, the Tesla Model X, the Fisker Karma, the BMW i3 and i8. For all of those cars, your neighbor sees you and instantly knows you went green. It’s a selling point.

Except, it’s not a selling point to those who subscribe to the second theory. Those are the people who simply want to go green without calling massive attention to themselves, without stares and questions and comments at every traffic light, without feeling smug that they have this cool new EV. The cars that subscribe to this theory are the Ford Focus Electric, the Tesla Model S and Model 3, the Audi e-tron, the Chevy Volt, the Kia Niro EV. The cars that are electric without being attention-seeking.

With this in mind, you might be wondering: which theory is correct? Which is the best way to sell an EV?

It’s hard to say, really. Some electric vehicles have flopped in the former theory (Fisker Karma), and some have sold in big numbers (Prius). Likewise with the latter theory: some flops (Focus Electric), some success (Model 3). All I know is it seems automakers trying to court EV shoppers have to choose which strategy they want to take — the “attention grabber” or the “subtle EV” — and once you commit to one decision, you’re sure to turn away potential shoppers who want the other thing. Find an Electric Vehicle for sale

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  1. Not sure which theory the Tesla Model 3 subscribes to. The rear and side look normal, but the front screams EV.

  2. If they want to court the average shopper then they need to focus on a normal car that just happens to have an electric drive train.  I know lots of people want you to know they have chosen an electric or hybrid but I am convinced the average consumer will be more apt to get an EV or Hybrid if that is limited to the drivetrain.  

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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