Posts Tagged electric cars

A tale of two taillights

1955 Chevy Bel AirWhat’s in a taillight? When Chevy rolled out its iconic 1955 models, it put the gasoline filler in the left taillight. Over 50 years later, Tesla is borrowing that unique feature: the company’s Model S electric car has its socket in the left taillight. Both these cars represent the design of their times, and they couldn’t be more different.

The ’55 Chevy (and it’s 1956 and 1957 “Tri-Five” siblings) was inspired by the hot technologies of its day: jets and rockets. Its tail fins were inspired by the tail booms of a World War II P-38 Lightning, and with their glowing red taillights, they look like rocket motors. It also has plenty of chrome because, in the 1950s, people thought everything in the future would be chromed.

The Tesla is also inspired by the technology of its day: computers, tablets, and smart phones. It’s powered by laptop batteries, so the Model S has the same minimal lines as a digital device; it’s definitely modern, but not overly elaborate. Americans today are more interested in social media than space exploration, which is why the interior is designed around the largest touch screen available in a car.

The Model S certainly proves that electric cars aren’t for nerds, that they can be just as stylish and luxurious as their petrol-powered counterparts. However, it doesn’t light my fire the way a ’55-’57 Chevy does. Why? It’s all about the inspiration.Tesla Model S

Trying to make a car look like a jet fighter is a great idea because jet fighters look cool. Tablets and smart phones do look sleek and modern, but they’re not much to go on when designing something more substantial, like a car.

The promise of space travel, cheap transcontinental jet flight, and atomic power never really played out, but least that technology looked cool. You can’t say that about today’s technology, even if it is more efficient and more useful.

The 1955 Chevrolet is a classic car partly because of the optimistic image it invoked. The Model S will certainly go down in history as an important car, but will it be a classic? Only time will tell.

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Saab: The zombie car company

Saab-badgeThis is turning into the Week of Revisited Posts. I’ve spent a lot of time sobbing over Saab, the quirky Swedish car company that went bust last December. But now Saab has risen from the dead. A Swedish-Asian conglomerate bought the company’s assets and plans to use them to build an electric car. The real question is: will zombie Saab be the same “Born from Jets” basket case we know and love?

In May, Japense investment firm Sun Investment and Hong Kong-based National Modeern Energy Holdings Ltd. put together a phantom car company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) and started bidding on Saab’s remains within a week of registering the Swedish company.

Now, National Electric Vehicle and its Asian backers have control of Saab’s assets, which include its production facilities and designs. The new company does not have the rights to Saab’s last two cars, the 9-4X and 9-5, both of which were designed by General Motors.

What it does have are the intellectual property rights to the 9-3, Saab’s smaller sedan, convertible, and wagon. NEVS plans to build an electric 9-3 targeted at the Chinese market, and put it on sale in 2013 or 2014.

So, like any other zombie, Saab’s reanimated corpse is walking the streets, but the company is still dead. NEVS may not even use the Saab name on its electric car, and that’s fine by me. This looks like some investors’ idea of making a quick buck by cobbling together a “new” car from someone else’s design, and selling it to people who are so eager for new cars that they don’t care if said cars are any good.

Still, it’s hard not to feel a pang of emotion. Like seeing an old friend shambling around and crying for human flesh, it just doesn’t feel right. The people of Trollhattan, where Saab’s factory currently lies dormant, will have jobs again, so that’s something. Nonetheless, Saab is still dead, and I’m still sobbing.

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