Build from scratch or convert to an electric vehicle?

Rachel Burgess, writing for Autocar:

"Which is wisest? The use of a single electric platform must make engineering infinitely easier, rather than heavily adapting existing architectures. But the obvious upside of offering electric variants of existing models is the equity of that model’s name. Aren’t you much more likely to buy a well-regarded model that just happens to have an electric powertrain rather than an unknown?"

Re-engineering a combustion engine car to fit an electric powertrain appears to be the pragmatic option in terms of retaining brand awareness and minimising the cost and time taken to develop the car. In 2020, the ordinary consumer will know exactly what a VW e-Golf is; namely a compact, affordable five door hatchback with an electric powertrain. How many of those consumers, in contrast, will know what a VW I.D. is? I would wager far less than the e-Golf.

What is even more clear, however, is that the electric powertrain is fundamentally different from that of a combustion engined car. A car with a powertrain so different from its combustion engined counterpart must, in turn, be built from scratch in a fundamentally different manner in order to reap the maximum benefits of the electric powertrain.

Consider the remarkable Tesla Model S, for example. The Model S is able to offer peerless acceleration and best in class safety and practicality (with a 'frunk' and large rear boot) because, not despite, it being been built and designed from the ground up for an electric powertrain. Could Tesla have saved time and money buying an existing, conventional mid-size platform and chassis from any number of manufacturers and then refitting an electric motor, akin to the original Tesla Roadster? Of course. But would it have enabled the same levels of practicality, performance and safety as a new, specially engineered ground up design? Most likely not.

The Tesla story goes to show that tailored design and engineering can create a substantially better product than an ostensibly easier 'swap engine for electric motor' approach. Famously, Tesla has undertaken little to no marketing of the Model S. How often do you see a print, television or web advertisement of a Tesla vehicle? Yours truly has certainly never seen one, and yet the Model S and upcoming Model 3 are the talk of the town. For Tesla at least, the fact of the matter is that its approach to electric vehicle design and engineering has developed vehicles so substantively better than the competition that traditional marketing is unnecessary and word-of-mouth alone is enough. 

Word-of-mouth has long been known to be the most effective form of marketing. After all, are you more likely to believe a company's own advertisement or the recommendation of a trusted friend or family member? Ultimately, this solves the challenge posed by Burgess in the quoted Autocar article. With tailored design and engineering producing a substantially better product, the car will market itself and eventually create a greater brand equity than if the manufacturer had chosen a conventional 'engine swap' approach.

Kia Stinger designer interview (Autocar)

Steve Cropley, reporting for Autocar:

"Standing next to the new Stinger, the key facets of the layout become obvious: the long bonnet, the short front overhang, the low roof of a cabin pushed to the rear and, above all, the generous dash-to-axle dimension that clearly advertises the fact that there’s a potent north-south engine in there, driving either the rear wheels or, in some cases, all of them.

Even for this emotional car, Guillaume says, there were numerous areas where design restraint was needed, such as leaving out a rear hatch. “We wanted the fastback look,” he explains, “but not the extra structure and weight of a hatch”. Likewise, they decided against an active rear spoiler because of weight, complexity and the fact that it would have introduced an extra rear shutline. But the original concept’s vents behind the front wheels were kept (Guillaume calls them “breathers”), because they have a genuine function in reducing aero pressure in the wheel housings."

Excellent interview with Gregory Guillaume, Kia's European design chief.

Design is as much about choosing what to leave out as what to put in. The Kia Stinger is the most elegant Korean car ever made. I'm glad Kia left that gaudy gold interior on the drawing board, though. 

Profile: Gosford Classic Car Museum

The automotive landscape extends well beyond the new and used car markets. Classic cars remain an important part of the industry, not least as a growing market in their own right, but also due to their importance as time capsules of the design and technological capabilities of their era, and the inspiration that they provide for the development of new models.

The Gosford Classic Car Museum is the largest such privately held collection of classic cars in the Southern Hemisphere. Owned by entrepreneur Tony Denny, the museum boasts a rotating collection of 550 vehicles, with 370 on display.

Above: Staff with a part of the museum's collection.

But how does one define what a classic car is? Is it simply the age of the vehicle? Ken Grindrod, museum curator, contends that apart from having an age of between 50-70 years, the historical significance of the vehicle and the number produced are other important factors to take into consideration.

"Every car needs to be looked at on its merits. [There are] some cars that would never be a classic but be collectible, and other cars that will always be a classic."

Despite having one of the world's largest classic car collections, the museum hasn't compromised on quality in pursuit of quantity. Mr Grindrod states that each vehicle goes through a rigorous due diligence process prior to being purchased.  Previous ownership, when the car was last restored, where the car originated from and available documentation, amongst other criteria, are all evaluated before a decision to purchase the vehicle is made. Whilst there is a preference towards Concours-level vehicles, the museum itself does not restore cars and each car is assessed individually for its value rather than having to meet a strict checklist of essential requirements.

"We track back who owned it, where it came from, because there are stories there to go with the car. In some cases, even though a classic may not be in top condition, its better to leave it as it is rather than restore it as it preserves the patina of the car."

Of course, market trends are another consideration that the museum takes into account when determining whether to add a car to the collection. Mr Grindrod comments that these trends vary upon the historical origin of the vehicle, with English, German and American cars, for example, continually changing in value in correspondence with altering buyer preferences. 

"Part of running a large collection of classic cars is that we have a knowledge of these trends, and that we follow and predict these trends" affirmed Mr Grindrod.

Given the importance of accurately analysing these trends, it might be reasonable to assume that the museum utilises a dedicated team of economists who have expertise in forecasting future trends in the classic car marketplace. However, this is not the case. Mr Grindrod confirms that as part of their responsibilities, museum staff collectively monitor trends, and are 'tapped into' several websites around the world that attempt to predict what will happen in the future. Moreover, by holding such a large classic car collection, Mr Grindrod contends that the museum has the ability to be a trendsetter in its own right. 

"We believe that because we're one of the biggest classic car buying people in the world, we can not only predict these trends, but quite often we set these trends ourselves."

Asked to elaborate on some current market trends, Mr Grindrod hints that British cars, especially older Jaguars and Austin-Healys, as well as certain American vehicles such as older Fords and Duesenbergs, are vehicles that are currently increasing in value. In supporting his claim, Mr Grindrod cites the example of a recent sale of a lightweight Jaguar D-Type that participated in the prestigious Le Mans endurance race; initially sold for $5 million, the car was subsequently auctioned off for $7 million two weeks later.

Vehicles such as the 1948 Jaguar Mark IV Drophead (above) are examples of classics that may increase in value.

A key aspect of owning a various range of exotic vehicles from all over the world is maintaining them and ensuring that they remain in a pristine, drivable condition. This presents a challenge for newer, more complex vehicles that may not have officially been sold domestically, and thus have limited local support channels. The museum's Ferrari LaFerrari is a prime example. Part of a limited production run of 500 and the fastest production road-going Ferrari to date, the vehicle is cared for directly by the Italian manufacturer, who regularly send a team of specialist mechanics to charge the vehicle's batteries and ensure that it is in perfect condition. The museum remains closed two days per week so that each car in the collection can be thoroughly maintained.

Above: Gosford Classic Car Museum's LaFerrari.

With the classic car market remaining sustainable, Mr Grindrod rejects any notion that the museum needs to alter its collection to cater for a younger audience. With the classic car market outstripping the overall automotive sales market in terms of growth rate, Mr Grindrod suggests that the museum's focus in the foreseeable future will remain on cars, rather than expanding to trucks or other types of classic commercial vehicles.

Above: 1950 Alvis TB14 Roadster

Since opening its doors eleven months ago, the Gosford Classic Car Museum has had over 100,000 visitors, including attendees from overseas, and Mr Grindrod highlights this fact to underscore the contribution that the Museum has made to the tourism industry in Gosford and the wider Central Coast area.

"The big dimension is what this is actually doing for Gosford. You only get back the effort that you put in, and we hope that the Museum will become one of Australia's major tourist attractions."

Above: 1993 Aussie Invader III. Australian built and piloted, this vehicle recorded a top speed of 1026 km/h in 1996. 

For further information about the Gosford Classic Car Museum, please visit www.gosfordclassiccarmuseum.com.au. All images in this article are to the credit and copyright of Gosford Classic Car Museum, and used with their permission.

I would like to place on record my thanks to Ken Grindrod, curator of the Gosford Classic Car Museum, for being available for this interview.