Volkswagen is developing a fresh design language for a new generation of purpose-built electric vehicles.
Klaus Bischoff, VW brand's head of design, said battery packs make it possible to change the fundamental shape of the vehicle. That will lead to vehicles that are taller and have short overhangs, shorter hoods, longer wheelbases, more-raked windshields and bigger passenger compartments.
VW is developing a new family of battery-electric vehicles. The first of at least three models slated for production is expected in 2020.
These cars, starting with the Golf-like I.D. hatchback that debuted in the U.S. at CES in Las Vegas this month, will all be based on the new MEB modular architecture.
Purpose-built electric cars, however, pose different challenges for designers, who have had to account for an engine compartment and long hood. EVs such as the I.D., which goes on sale in 2020, generally are taller than vehicles with internal combustion engines, to accommodate floor-mounted power cells.
"To cope with that we need to correct proportions," Bischoff said in Detroit this month. "Essential for this is huge wheels, huge in diameter -- but also wide."
Because the need for an engine compartment disappears, the A-pillar can be moved forward substantially. This lets designers shrink the hood to essentially only what is needed to meet crash regulations and pedestrian impact guidelines. This allows the windshield to be inclined at a more level angle for better fluid dynamics, he said.
"To gain the travel distance -- range is essential -- we need to have outstanding drag coefficients, and this will also influence the shape of the cars quite a bit," Bischoff said.
With virtually no front to the car, overhangs can be extremely short, maximizing the wheelbase and expanding the passenger compartment. VW designers also pushed the dashboard forward by 5 inches to give even more legroom.
"The I.D. has the interior space of a Passat [midsize] with a footprint smaller than the Golf," Bischoff said.
Also important for Bischoff is redefining the front of his new EVs, taking a page out of Tesla cars by doing away with the front air vents and curtains initially needed to cool the motor.
"We don't want a grille," he explained. "Volks-wagen, if you look back [at the Beetle], was born without a grille. The engine was in the back."
In the interior, VW designers are shooting for the "ultimate reduction" -- eliminating console elements in favor of a tablet and a heads-up display enhanced by augmented-reality.