The proliferation of SUVs on our roads is not going to subside anytime soon.
That’s the message from Francois Leboine, the head of concept car design at French auto giant Renault, who spoke to Australian media during a phone conference last week.
In addition to their popularity due to a taller driving position – and more flexible cabins and cargo areas – SUVs also provide close to the ideal platform for electrification, he said.
“Today, the second generation of electric cars is made with … batteries which are essentially still big, heavy, and that you have to, in terms of weight, put at the base of the car, just for balance reasons,” he says.
“So because of this, you have a platform which is full of batteries. And because of this, you have a car which is quite high, and which has, actually, more or less the proportion of an SUV.”
Leboine and his team are responsible for the Renault Morphoz (pictured above and below) concept, a shape-shifting electric SUV that was meant to be unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March.
While the Morphoz will have to wait before its first public outing, Leboine says no one should be surprised that Renault’s radical concept took the shape of an SUV.
Leboine says there’s not much point offering a car that buyers don’t want.
Tastes have changed over the last two decades, to the point where SUVs are now the dominant vehicle type on our roads, including in Australia.
Last year, SUVs accounted for 60 per cent of passenger car sales while traditional 'cars' accounted for the remaining 40 per cent.
SUVs have now outsold traditional passenger cars in Australia for the past three years in a row.
Leboine stresses Renault is working on future vehicles other than SUVs however, right now, he says the sheer demand for SUVs of all shapes and sizes will dictate design for the foreseeable future.
“I'm just thinking that SUV is a kind of virus, but maybe not in a wrong way,” says Leboine. “But it's something that is just taking the place of everything … our job as designers, it's interesting to understand what are these codes that SUV has been able to take, that please people so much and make them feel that this car expresses so well.
“Practicality, dynamism, robustness, strength? I don't know. So many qualities that people are finally, certainly demanding, asking for. So, there is something that we all must wonder, ‘What makes the success so obvious of SUV nowadays?’
“And in my answer, actually, you can see it's more a question than an answer. But let's analyse it and try to apply what we think are the basis of the success of SUVs.”
Putting that into context of electrification, Leboine is effusive about the potential the SUV platform provides while also maintaining appeal to buyers’ current tastes.
“You don't have really the choice to make it pass visually, to make it look good visually,” he explains. “You can use what works today, which are the good proportions of an SUV, to put it on a package, which actually has more or less this problem of having a very high section. So then, if you put bigger weight, you can more or less make it look okay. And then, the only differentiator would be to actually use the size of hood, the place where you put the windscreen.
“But still, if you go a bit further, we are not yet in 20 years’ time, for the moment in the hood, you still have radiators, engines... You have still chassis, which is here to protect the people in case of crash. So, more or less you have still a car, which is built like the generation before, with the constraint of the second generation of electric cars, and with the fact that you are in a market which is still, let's say, fully in love with SUVs.”
Still, while SUVs continue to dominate out roads, Leboine says he and is team are always looking at other solutions to the engineering problems presented by today’s automotive landscape.
“We will have maybe things that look like Morphoz, and we will have also things that are different, of course,” he says. “We won't put... how we say in French, ‘we won't put our eggs, all eggs in the same basket’."
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