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There Is No Such Thing as a No-Compromises Car

Sam Abuelsamid
May 03, 2022

GHI Blog

Engineering is often thought of as a precise, data-driven pursuit. It is all about taking the knowledge gained from science about how the universe works and applying it to create technological solutions to problems. But engineering is more than that. Like so much in life, engineering is about the art of compromise. Whenever an executive introduces a new product and describes it as having no compromises, be very, very skeptical because no such thing has ever existed or is likely to exist. 

There are always constraints that may be physical or financial or functional that force compromises. Even the $3 million Bugatti Chiron with a top speed approaching 300 mph requires special tires heated up to temperature with pressure in a specific range before engaging the top speed mode. Then it can only maintain those speeds for a few minutes before depleting the fuel tank, so drivers won’t be running the Cannonball at 250-plus mph. 

Balancing EV Compromises

Since only a few hundred people will ever own a Chiron, it’s not really that relevant. However, the world is rapidly shifting toward electrification, and the art of compromise has become even more important. 

Batteries are large, heavy, and expensive and take more time to charge than a gas tank takes to fill. Through the first decade of the modern EV era, we’ve seen automakers pursue different approaches to EV compromise. Some, seeing a limited market for EVs, have chosen to modify existing internal combustion engine (ICE) models and stuff batteries wherever they can. Many of these, like the 2013 Ford Focus Electric and Fiat 500e, have ranges well under 100 miles because of limited space for batteries. 

Other companies have developed flexible architectures capable of accommodating ICE, hybrid, or EV propulsion systems, such as BMW and Volvo. This approach is inherently the most compromised solution. The flexibility of this approach allows manufacturers to shift the product mix based on regional demand in a global market, which might be preferable for a midsize automaker when near-term EV demand remains uncertain in many regions. 

The recently launched BMW i4 shares an architecture and virtually identical dimension with the ICE 3 and 4 series. BMW managed to fit enough battery in the i4 for a 300-mile range on the base rear-drive model. However, the common structure retains an unneeded center tunnel used for the drive shaft on gas models. It also retains the classic BMW long-hood design proportions, but less than optimal packaging of ancillary components means there is no space for a front trunk found on many dedicated EVs. 

The Volvo XC40 is also offered in both ICE and EV variants. Volvo managed to fit a small cargo area under the hood large enough for a charging cable. The relatively modest battery size gives it a range of just 223 miles.

Others have developed purpose-built architectures just for EVs, such as all Tesla vehicles and the Chevrolet Bolt. Dedicated EV architectures such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E retain similar traditional long-hood proportions to BMW but have found room for 4.8 cubic feet of storage. It also provides a flat interior floor with more passenger room. Volvo has its first EV-only platform launching in late 2022 for the successor to the XC90 SUV, and BMW will debut its Neue Klasse in 2025. Purpose-built EVs provide more design flexibility and improved packaging. This can contribute to a better customer experience but may require more upfront commitment to going electric that may not yet be justified by EV sales volumes. In the end, it’s all about which compromises you choose.