Home / Car News / Here’s My Final Design Of An Electric Version Of A Classic American Wagon: A Car Designer Sketches Your Ideas

Here’s My Final Design Of An Electric Version Of A Classic American Wagon: A Car Designer Sketches Your Ideas


After a reader asked me to sketch a modern, electric interpretation of a classic American wagon in our last “A Car Designer Sketches Your Ideas” installment, I showed you six different designs I’d come with. You then let me know which ones you liked most, and with that input, I’ve now come up with a final mockup. Here’s a look at what I think a modern electric version of an old American wagon could look like.

Some quick notes on the latest article by the other (more secret) designer here at The Autopian: Per his stereotype, I have spent long hours at my spotless drafting table wearing my black turtleneck, and getting imaginary clay all over my Zara black suede Chelsea boots (as a non-chief designer my budget doesn’t run to Miu Miu). I always hated working with clay, as it stinks and gets everywhere, even if you’re a snooty designer (as opposed to a clay modeler) just applying tape lines to a model.

With that out of the way: We had some good discussion in the comments last week about how a modernized EV wagon should. I sketched you some options, and you chose what you liked; sketch four was by far the most popular theme despite having been probably my least favorite. I always encourage students to put their sketches up on a board for their peers to see, even if it is something they are not totally sure about. You never know what will resonate with those making the decisions.

I deliberately gave sketch four a retro front graphic, because sometimes even if you know something won’t work you draw it anyway, just to make sure. You need to establish what you don’t want to help guide which direction you do want.

Front three-quarter view of the high roof electric wagon


In the image above, you can see I’ve tried to combine the overall theme of sketch four, with the front of sketch two, which was marginally the most popular treatment for the Down The Road Graphic (DRG).

[Editor’s note: Let’s define DRG real quick. Per Car Design News:

Designers talk about the DRG – Down-Road Graphics: the bold impression of the front of the car from 100m away. It can be the main device with which to make your brand recognisable at a glance.


It’s bold without being aggressive, and has a distinct modern lighting treatment. American cars generally tend to favor a more assertive appearance, but by keeping it simple with bold shapes it’s not overdone or fussy.

Lots of you mentioned having a stepped or ‘vista’ style roof, so there’s more headroom for third row passengers (and more cargo volume). While a great idea in theory, glass adds weight, cost and construction complexity (which is why some cars will use a black plastic cheater panel at the base of the A pillar or on the C pillar as opposed to a small window).

[Editor’s note: Here’s an example:

Image credit: wikimedia commons and Capital Chrysler Jeep Dodge (dealer) (edited by Jason Torchinsky)


It’s important with features like this that they do actually offer a benefit to customers – there’s no point doing it as a stylistic flourish. Look at the roof of a Discovery 5 – the step is a bit half assed and really adds nothing extra in terms of practicality – it’s just a visual call back the earlier more utilitarian models. Do it properly or don’t do it all.

Front three-quarter view of the low roof electric wagon

With that in mind I’ve imagined the vista roof as an optional extra (which is why the car directly above doesn’t have it); a long car such as our wagon is likely to have panel splits in the roof because of the size of the pressing. The rear of our car could have a horizontal split across the roof at the C pillar, and then the rear most section could be replaced with a vista roof that sits in place of the regular panel. A lot of attention would need to be paid to where the split lines go, as this would only be feasible if the rest of the rear glass was shared between both versions.

Rear three-quarter view of the high-roof electric wagon

Moving to the rear view, I’ve gone for a clamshell split tailgate to maximize the size of the opening. There’s no point having a huge interior volume if you can’t get anything in the damn thing. Likewise, I’ve added a small inner tailgate (like the Renault Modus) for those times when there’s not enough room to swing the whole lower tailgate down. The wrap around wood treatment was a popular idea, but I think combined with the vista roof it’s a bit too much and starts to feel too old fashioned, so for the low roof version it’s been changed to a body -colored trim piece. It’s always important to give customers an option for things that might be a bit divisive:

Rear three-quarter view of the low roof electric wagon

Remember this is only a couple of days work – in reality designers spend weeks and months churning out sketches and many reviews take place before a couple of favored directions emerge to be worked up into preliminary digital and clay models. So is this what you imagined an EV wagon could look like? Or have I spectacularly flubbed the landing?

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72 Responses

  1. I love the green one! That touch of woodyness completes it.
    I have a soft spot for long roofs. I had a 1966 Ford Fairlane in high school, a 1957 Ford wagon in my early 20s, and a 1973 Volvo 1800ES.
    Unfortunately something similar will never be built unless it gets lifted and cladded.
    But maybe we can hope that someone takes inspiration from your sketch to build a custom Buick Roadmaster Estate for SEMA or Autorama.

  2. I can’t stop thinking I need to see it with plates on it. Maybe a little less rear overhang? The low roof works best for me, even though I preferred the *idea* of a vista. The hood needs a little character.

  3. “ Some quick notes on the latest article by the other (more secret) designer here at The Autopian: Per his stereotype, I have spent long hours at my spotless drafting table wearing my black turtleneck, and getting imaginary clay all over my Zara black suede Chelsea boots (as a non-chief designer my budget doesn’t run to Miu Miu). I always hated working with clay, as it stinks and gets everywhere, even if you’re a snooty designer (as opposed to a clay modeler) just applying tape lines to a model.”

    I am truly entertained!


  4. The two tone on the blue is awesome. I’ll take it in a slate blue/medium grey a la 2010 Impreza Outback Sports.

    Although it looks like it already has grey skirts, so maybe it’s really three tone? Either way, sign me up. I’d love to get my wife into a wagon instead of the minivan she wants when our current three row SUV needs replaced. (Which is actually six months ago, but eff this car market).

  5. I grew up in the 1970s with a Chevy Station wagon as the family’s daily driver and after reading this had to search the web to relive the memory. On my first search came this, http://www.stationwagonforums.com/forums/media/1970-chevy-townsman-wagon.7662/full?d=1359591797 , which looks very similar to the Blue Low Roof Sketch you created.

    Just swap out the ICE, with a GM EV Crate motor, about 5000 extra pounds of battery, give her a quick paint restoration, and some tinted windows, and it is very close to your sketch. At least to someone like me who is very simple minded in the art department.

      1. Hilarious, also this had me LOL’ing:
        “I have spent long hours at my spotless drafting table wearing my black turtleneck, and getting imaginary clay all over my Zara black suede Chelsea boots (as a non-chief designer my budget doesn’t run to Miu Miu).”

  6. I’d suggest Zebrano for the wood trim. It has a well-defined grain which is also quite straight. However, it pretty much only works if darkly stained: anything lighter than medium walnut leaves the larger growth sections looking milky or washed-out. Or, if going for the lighter end of the spectrum, it’s hard to go wrong with curly maple. And, the curved elements would contrast nicely with the long lines.

    You’re the designer here ( I have neither the eye or experience with which to argue ), but I would really like to see an illustration of your opinion that steelies would be too retro. I’m thinking of the rally wheels with the rounded-rectangular cutouts. Those, especially with the protruding knurled center cap, just scream ‘muscle car’ to me. And, again, not too big: I’m thinking minimum 60-series tires. The retro call-outs in your design absolutely need actual visible sidewall in my personal opinion.

    1. I’d expect that the wood absolutely could not under any circumstances be real wood at all, to meet cost and durability targets.

      Going fully retro and using Di-Noc would also free up the potential of both dealer installation and maybe even reusing panels that don’t pass QC after the paint process without a full grind-and-remold.

      1. You’d never use vinyl for something like this – it screams cheapness and cost cutting. A treated and coated wood could work – it’s a cost option after all. If it works on a Riva Aquarama it can work here. The Color & Materials team would be the ones doing the hard work figuring it out. I’m just the ideas guy!

  7. Glad to know you only had a short time to work on it because it pretty much looks like every drawing I saw but the better drawers when I was in 8th grade. I really don’t see anything new. Pretty much a lowered wagon that is also shortened in height. Going this route do it to the canyonero from the Simpsons. I doubt any adult would fit in any seat. Frankly I would like a Jeep Cherokee changed to station wagon proportions.
    They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. I want the abridged version of this thing.
    No offense

    1. It’s about the ideas and visual themes rather than exact dimensions at this stage of the process.
      I’ve had my work praised by chief designers and world wide VPs of design, and well known concept artists, so I’m pretty confident in my ability to convey my ideas visually. You don’t get to work in industry unless you’re exceptionally talented, so those kids need to get themselves to college!

  8. Rear overhang is longer than the movie Ben Hur but understand that moving the rear suspension back too far would not be parking garage friendly. It would be nice if a third row seat could have the flexibility to face forward or backward. But my biggest ask is mini van rear sliding doors. Why can’t wagons and SUVs have them? They make so much sense.

    1. The problem with sliding doors is additional weight, complexity and cost. In Europe we had the Peugeot 1007 which was a small, tall hatch with a big sliding door each side. Good idea, but in practice too heavy for such a small car and they were a reliability nightmare.

  9. Seeing it realized, I love it. Yes, Vista and wood and all, and sadly, I realize why it will never come to be. A minivan is just a better execution of a large, family vehicle.

    I would be tempted to tighten it up a bit–not as small as a Euro wagon, but not as large as 70’s wagon either. I want it to be big, to be sure, and to be American…but also to be undeniably electric. The front will be a frunk, it can be huge but this size it will be big enough for too much space. Just a shimmy down a bit. A nod to the 70s, not the 70s all over again.

    I know, I’m picky and this design is done. It is beautiful on it’s own and it works. It’s as you said, the idea that once you see it, you could keep going at it for weeks and weeks.

  10. I really quite like this. I think it looks a little stre-e-tched out (especially that rear overhang) but if I think of it as just a sketch (which it is) that would get toned down as it moved toward production, I get it. I like the green vista/woody option for myself, and I dig the overall shape. I’m wondering what those dark spots at the bases of the windows are, though. What are they for?

  11. From an aesthetic perspective, this turned out nicely. It is exactly what the commentator asked for. If we weren’t saturated with these crossover abominations, this might be sold in their place.

    The front is vaguely reminiscent of an 80s Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser, the rear an early 80s Dodge Diplomat Wagon, and side profile sort of like an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.

    The extreme low-profile tires and slightly protruding from the side wheels probably wouldn’t work well in the real world, but there are plenty of options out there.

    It was really cool seeing you bring this to an image we could all see.

    Any idea on what sort of motor/controller/battery would be placed in it, or is that still undecided?

  12. Love to see that the front end you went with is essentially what I thought the best mix would be. This turned out great and I’m super excited to continue seeing these posts.

    I’m tempted to dig out my old books and send you some scans of my old designs and see if any of them stand out to you.

  13. Loved the bit where you point out all the features on the Disco 5 design. You should consider making something like that a regular feature, akin to Cumberford’s By Design column in Automobile Magazine.

    1. You’re not the first person to suggest this, and it is something I would consider doing. The problem is I’d don’t want to be an armchair critic and just do it from photographs, as you really need to get up close and personal to do it justice.

  14. Cut that greenhouse off just behind the rear passenger windows and this gives off strong El Camino vibes. That’s how I’d customize it. Then throw in a detachable roof (like a 1st gen 4Runner),4 wheel drive, a slight lift and some beefy tires (AMC Eagle style). There you have it.. my dream car.

  15. I think the low roof design nails it, but then again my favorite sketches were 1 & 6 so I might be bias to the end result. Also, I like how you modernized the wood trim, it seems to fit in much better with more modern design while paying homage to a classic, but I’m sure you could make either trim optional on the low roof design? Super fun series, thanks for all the great insight!

    1. This is an interesting observation. Sometimes a simple line sketch loses something when you add colour, shading and detail. Because of their nature sketches tend to be more expressive and dynamic, and some of that disappears when you render it up to be a bit more realistic.

    1. Good eye. I was rushing to get the images finished yesterday as I’d been away from my desk for two days. There’s always something which is why in the studio a designer will get one of their peers or their manager to pre-flight their renders before putting them up for review!

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