Many of the contemporary design concepts for the rumored (but almost certain) Apple electric car show a dorky looking econobox because, well, no one knows what it will look like and some kind of design that portrays an eco-attitude is an easy, comfortable premise. I maintain that the Apple car will actually be quite beautiful and desirable. It will have to be to compete.
We're in a quandary. Because we don't know what the Apple car will look like, it's safe to speculate about a very space efficient econobox that is devoid of any daring design elements. Car and Driver, from its Department of Wild-Ass Guesses, recently showed us this in the May, 2016 issue.
NOT gonna happen. Image credit: Car & Driver
In addition, also very recently, "Motor Trend convened a panel of people from AppleInsider, CNet, Roadshow, Motor Trend itself, and designers from the Art Center College of Design." They came up with this.
Also NOT gonna happen. Image credit: Motor Trend
As my colleague, Bryan Chaffin, noted these cars look like designs from the 1980s for a futuristic car of the 1990s.
More to the point, it's just not possible to fantasize about a really good looking car because tastes in cars vary so widely. One person's dream Lamborghini Huracán is declared ugly by another whose interests lean more towards boxy and practical.
Lamborghini Huracán. Image credit: Lamborghini
Marketing and Messaging
But that doesn't mean we can't theorize, with a broad brush, that the Apple electric car has to look really good to a lot of people. Tesla has, I think, proven that point. The early Tesla models and the recent Tesla Model 3, don't look like econoboxes. Thet look tempting and desirable. Enough so that, as of this writing, 320,000 people put down US$1,000 to hold a spot for a Model 3. And stood in line to do so.
Tesla Model 3. Image Credit: Tesla
These designs do not telegraph the idea that the car is limited, somehow by its battery capacity. Instead, the message is that batteries enable performance, if done right. The car design telegraphs the message the maker wants to send.
Here's a design for the Apple car that won a contest at Freelancer.
Image credit: Freelancer
Compare that to cars that send an entirely different kind of message to the owner who may wish to cooperate in sending a statement to others.
BMW i3. Image credit: BMW
And so, while it's perilous to go out on a limb with exotic designs, one thing is fairly certain. Apple has to:
- Appeal to a wide range of people so that the car is commercially successful.
- Look so cool that, like the Tesla Model 3, people will stand in line for it.
- Decide what those people feel is important about the design of an electric car and what kind of message they want to wrap themselves in.
- Balance safety, practicality and looks.
- Reconcile all of the above.
This no simple task. Make it too boxy and car enthusiasts and car magazines will write it off as a California econobox. Make it look too sleek and sexy and people who are of a mind to buy an electric car for the first time will find it impractical and overly glitzy.
As time goes on, we probably won't be able to resolve the basic conflict I described above. All kinds of crazy designs will be presented. But one thing is certain. No matter what the design is, Apple will have to make a reliable, quality, comfortable car that people will enjoy. It will have some breakthroughs in technology, but they'll have to be easy to understand and digest. The car will have exude safety and class.
Most of all, it must be beautiful by some consensus standard and be highly desirable. Econoboxes don't achieve that. That's my thesis, and I'm sticking to it.