Wednesday, February 20

Silly Looking: Does It Matter?

You know how I'm such an EVangelist and I'm dEVoted to mending our fuelish ways so I have been following EV developments, ever since seeing Who Killed The Electric Car, because I want us all to be able to go carbon neutral tomorrow.

Last week I read that in fact you can buy a mainstream priced ($25000) and mainstream speed (75mph) electric car NOW and I couldn't wait to tell you.

But then I saw it.
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As a designer I do balk at certain aesthetics. Am I being too fussy?
I know from previous polls, that most of you kossacks are in more intellectual lines of work. So, my question for you is...

Does silly looking matter to you?
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Unlike most of you, I make things, out of stuff, for a living. And we people who make things are the people who despoil this planet. Theres way too many things. I have a certain amount of guilt about this. I try to make just fewer things than I once did, priced enough to be sustainable. Thats my new business model. I can't help making things, but recognising them as non essential things, I keep it down now.

But for the things we do need, I want to encourage the right manufacturers to make more. Enough anyway. And we need EVs. But Detroit won't make em.

When I had seen the Sparrow I didn't put it in my comprehensive EV showroom here, because I assumed it was just a NEV, that hardly anyone can manage with, (because slow) and since it was so weird looking, I left it out, because theres plenty of NEVs. But now that I know its freeway speed, that's different! Its available! It goes 75 mph! It doesn't cost $100000! So the Sparrow must succeed! But with poor design even good things will fail in the market.
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Even if I could get to work in 20 minutes zipping down the freeway in this Sparrow, I'd feel silly wearing a car like this.
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So finally I wrote to Sparrow.

-----Original Message-----

To: Kammy Willis
Subject: design issues

Would you consider a more sensible looking design? Based on my
experience, I believe the customer for the ev is a responsible baby
boomer, like me, not a wild and crazy teenager, as you seem to have
designed this for.

We are not going to make ourselves look ridiculous though. It could
still be small and round and three wheeled and bright colored, but it just needs to look a little less like a disneyland ride. Think singlewidth minicooper or tiny vw beetle as a start to the design.

Small things, think iPOD, can be well designed to look dignified. Less
is more. Clean. Simple. Dignified. Zen. Just, not cutesie. Not

I am a designer by trade, and I diary about climate change (my main
concern) and related legislation and thus EVs at dailykos:

I hope you are thinking of doing this? I would love to do this for free, or you could have product design students at the Art Academy in SF do it as a award winning option, like architectural design is sometimes done.

Thanks for this environmentally sound option to drive CO2 free.

I was real surprised to get a response right away. (Surprisingly, everyone I've contacted in the EV world has been real open and willing to talk: I always say, I'm writing a piece for dailykos...) Clout. We got it.


Thank you for your suggestions. We are in the earliest stages of
designing our next generation of vehicles and I will pass your message
on to our design team. We really value this kind of feedback because our
goal is to provide CO2-free driving for the majority of people and the
best way to know what the majority wants is to hear from them.

I also had a minute to talk with my boss about your e-mailed
suggestions. He printed out your first e-mail and took it with him to
discuss with a designer who he is taking back to the airport this
afternoon. My boss said that we are at really good stage for design
suggestions and since you volunteered to share some ideas, feel free to
send me any sketches if you want.

It's been a pleasure talking with you today! I can't wait to read your
Feel free to contact me again if you think of anything else?

Best wishes,


Myers Motors
330.630.3768 x 3343

So this weeekend I spent drawing...I started from the few cars I do like. I like all the Lotus bodies, which are kind of the haute couture of the car industry. I don't like all the spinach attached to most cars, in the same way I wouldn't buy a garbage can wreathed with a sentimental transfer of Hallmark roses. I like the old very basic simple Chevy truck. But mostly I just thought about what would be a design that said EV, and celebrated the simplicity of electric motors v the ICE.

I stayed with the same size as the Sparrow. The width is 5'2" and the height is 4'4". The length is 9'4". But I diverged part way into 2 options. The left is n a d a and on the right the zero. I made the n a d a more triangular to accomodate 2 people, snugly, so theres room in front to pick up your kid after work.

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See how the front hood of the one on the left, the n a d a goes right down to the bottom: because theres no grill needed for an EV, it could be a clean finish edge to the hem just the way side doors can be. Nah nah, nah nah nah! Imagine someone seeing that in their rear view mirror! Confounding. No grill?!?! No internal combustion engine for moi! Then when you zip past them and they see the name on the back with, again, no grill, and no tailpipe and none of all that excessive spinach that comes from running on -blood- sorry, gasoline, and finally it starts to dawn on I want one like that! And pretty soon, we'll all be zipping about in a clean machine!

They'd both have a big squareish box trunk for groceries I think. The center of gravity is low because the batteries are underneath. As I was drawing, I found their names came to me, n a d a, no gas and zero no CO2 as something I would want to be very clear to everyone else on the freeway.
I see them both as being simple shapes, like my favorite car ACPropulsions electric t-zero, with clean cut door lines that look thick like his t-zero does, because they go maybe 4" across the top of the roof, and the bottom is also angled in about 4". So in addition to being as solid as the Sparrow in fact is, they would look really solid and slabby like this.
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Oddly enough, I just noticed, writing this now, that the t-zero has this same name! I remember the t-zero visually, with the script font but not not the name, I guess. Man, my Alzheimers is going to be interesting when it really kicks in....!

Heres a size comparison with other small cars. The Sparrow is pretty much a motorbike with a lid. But it's not as small as it looks. At nine feet long a 6 foot person could lay flat beside one, with 3 feet to spare. So its actually quite big enough, but no more. The width is 5'2" and the height is 4'4". The length is 9'4".

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An earlier version of the Sparrow had a back window, but I think its so narrow in the back that I abandoned it. So I made the side mirrors big.

This Saturday I went to the SFEVA meeting and talked a bit with Sherrie Boschert who wrote Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars That Will Recharge America

She told me that the Sparrow was bought by Myers-Motors in Ohio and that everyone at Myers, unlike some other companies we were talking about, is a real decent human being, and that the company is well run. She is one vote for the Sparrow as is, by the way! She thinks it is cute! Anyway, she said they they will work with the mechanic in your area if you have any problem after you buty the Sparrow. Something I hadn't thought about, the fact that at this early stage, theres not mechanics widespread who know how to fix these. Heres some fixit pictures Kammy sent me( I'd asked if they know of any crashes)the other car was totaled in front, as you see the Sparrow is very solid hardly any ddamage. The circular pattern is part of the incomprehensible design,
not a result of the crash.
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All that happened
was the license plate section got dented in.
Sherrie thinks that the Sparrow is just the beginning for them. How did I miss them as I was combing through all the internets seeking my EV to change America?

I also got to drive with Plug In America's guru Marc Geller in his original RAV4 EV after the meeting. It was a beautifull ride, quite silent, but when I got out and it drove off, I realised it didn't look different from a regular RAV4 running on -blood- I mean gasoline. I decided I would want this redesign to be groundbreaking. An EV should evangelise everyone else on the freeway.
It should make a clear statement.
I am driving a zero.
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I am emitting nada.
Simple works.
Stop being suckers, folks.
Even, I would want it to say: nah, nah, nah nah, nah!

So I would want that concept to be really out there.

So what if the guy in the next lane is in his AvengerChargerTakeThatAsshole!!! or whatever. His kids are going to have to try and make a living off a planet that is destabilised by his trip in this completely unneccesary monstrosity. He should get therapy. But I digress....

Heres a Chinese version of the Sparrow that I think is more successfull...

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This Chinese one person EV, not available here is more consistent in the design. It still looks like a disneyland ride, but it has a design integrity as a Disneyland ride.

So any kossacks in a design line of work want to jump in on this? Or can you think of anyone you know...?

I think the main design issue is not to get freaked out by it being single occupancy. And 3 wheeled. At first I really had a hard time with 3 wheels. Cars have 4 wheels just like my family has 4...then I realised. I'm just being silly. If we can shave a bit off the weight and the resource deplenishment, lets rethink, really: do cars really need 4 wheels? We are so used to doublewidth cars. Yet it really makes more sense for most of our driving to work alone to be narrower. And it uses 25% fewer tires right there! But just as an armchair does not shock the eye next to a sofa, singlewidth doesn't have to not relate to the sofas on the road. Its an armchair. And thats fine.

My own inspiration was the milk jug a gallon of milk comes in.
Its got a cube to triangular issue going on around the handle
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but it doesn't get all bent out of shape because of that.
It just forthrightly embraces the transition to triangularity and moves on. Humble, straightforward unassuming design. In almost any product design you see this kind of simple acceptance of shape, when you think of it.

So. This is the new Sparrow for me. I want to have either one. How about your ideas? I think it is a very exciting opportunity for us to do something for our dear planet. The only designer I've met here is rktect: rktect - any thoughts? But among our teaming multitudes here, surely some are designers. Lets go back to the drawing board on the Sparrow and get it on every freeway where it belongs!!

Take that, Oiligarchy! We don't have to wait and pray that a Volt actually rolls off the assembly line, when GM is practically married to big oil.
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