Writers of Larry David/Don Draper slash fiction who are also huge fans of fictitious electric cars are in for a big treat this August when HBO launches their new movie, Clear History. The plot centers around the development of a revolutionary electric car, and that car shows how little TV understands car design.
The movie seems to be about how Larry David's character (in some kind of halfway homeless man/Dude Lebowski-looking getup) developed a revolutionary electric car, only to leave the company over a disagreement over naming the car "Howard." David's partner/boss is John Hamm's character, who makes the Howard a huge success, leaving David's character out in the cold.
That sets up a revenge theme, ten years later. HBO has a good track record for their shows, so this could prove to be engaging and funny, but the design for the revolutionary car, the Howard, reveals the stigmas and stereotypes electric cars still have in mainstream society.
The car looks very awkward. It seems that the revolutionary part of the car is its remarkable range, which is a good call, since that's exactly what, along with price, will eventually be the killer app for electric cars. But while a lack of style certainly hasn't hindered cars in the past from being successful, the tall, narrow, tiny-tired look of the car shows a certain lack of vision on HBO's part. Awkward proportions aside, the car feels like a cobbled-together prop as opposed to a fully-designed car, and HBO certainly has the resources to do better.
Sure, narrow, tall, and small-tired are all part of the equation that electric cars have used to maximize space and range, but the truth is the most promising electric cars do pay more attention to style, without much sacrifice of efficiency. The wonder-car HBO designed to be the Howard has more in common with the somewhat goofy GEM cars (which I think this prop car must be based on) or the novel if repeatedly-unsuccessful TH!NK electric cars. While I'm a fan of odd looking vehicles, the future of electric cars will resemble the Tesla more than these sort of tumored guppies.
Plus, it doesn't even seem like the design is one of those efficiency-at-the-expense-of-style solutions: if it's all about aerodynamics, those big door hinges, mirrors, and goofy hood bulge would have to go. It looks more like what a production designer thought an advanced electric car might look like based on years of only encountering Prii and golf carts.
The real shame here is that there's so many great auto design schools right here around LA that HBO could have gone to for some genuinely interesting and novel designs, as opposed to something that looks like the props department got a golf cart, some possibly MINI headlights, and electroluminescent tape. Oh, and a bumper that looks like what grocery stores use to protect walls from shopping cart impacts.
HBO had an opportunity to give a young designer a really great opportunity to design something special, and they squandered it.
Perhaps it's designed like this for comedy purposes, which wouldn't be surprising, really. We'll have to find out when the movie airs, I guess, but this preliminary look just goes to show that electric cars still have a pretty major image problem to overcome for mainstream Americans.