The reason American cars don’t sell anymore is that they have forgotten how to design the American Dream…That’s why the American auto industry is in trouble: no design, no desire. – Karl Lagerfeld

Ferrari FF

“Car design is dead” is an argument I hear almost every day.  The followers of this mantra cite the uniform blobs being offered by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda as well as others.  They state that once the days of Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl, and Elwood Engle were over, the task of designing a car has been handed off to blind committees, devoid of feeling or style.

Ford Evos Concept

J. Mays, Chief Designer at Ford is quoted as saying “they are not writing songs about cars anymore.”  Well, technically he is wrong.  There is Camaro by Kings of Leone, 92 Subaru by Fountains of Wayne, 65 Mustang by Five for Fighting…and others, I am sure.  Of course, his intent was that the love affair with the car has turned to boredom, and the subtext is that the boredom is caused by a lack of design and style.  A few years ago, you could have parked the offerings from the top eight car brands in a lot, and they would all look identical.  Blobs of silver or white, all with the same boring styling cues.

Bertone B99 Jaguar Concept

But, design being dead is just not true.  The simple rebuttal is to list the rather impressive group of concept cars that are shown at auto shows around the world.  Cars like the Citroen Survolt, a 300 horsepower, electric car that looks like a combination of the Batmobile and a race car.  The Jaguar B99 Bertone Concept, which looks like a modern interpretation of a XJ coupe, the Ford Evos, a concept that makes a Ford look like a Lamborghini, or the Ferrari FF, the shooting brake that is now a production car.  Concepts reassure us that there are designers creating new and exciting cars.  It is the responsibility of the manufacturers to make those cars real, and that is the broken link in the chain.

Citroen Survolt Concept

For production cars, there is at least some hope with certain automakers.  A quick look at the 2012 offerings shows that some automakers are listening, even if it means just a few extra sweeping lines on the side of the car.  Others are either ignoring the designers, like General Motors, or giving the design team angel dust and LSD, like Nissan, creator of the hideous Juke, Cube, and Murano Cross Cabriolet.

Cadillac CS-V

So, let’s get down to specific examples.  Hyundai has updated the Sonata with more lines, but then made the $64,000 dollar Equus look like a Camry.  Finally, they created a cool little car which looks like a Citroen that mated with a Nissan Juke, but ruined everything by naming it the Veloster.  Ford has updated the Fiesta, Focus and Taurus, and seems to heading in the right direction.  GM has given up on Chevy after the Camaro, continues to attempt reanimation of the zombie called Buick, and is determined to make every Cadillac look like a fat assed stealth fighter.  Nissan is bipolar, and seesaws from the crazy Gary Busey school of design, to the comatose, laudanum school of design.  Chrysler should have gone more gangster than Gansta on the 300, and is using a time machine to bring back the rest of the lineup from the 1990’s.

Hyundai HCD12 Curb Concept

Design in the old tradition may be gone, but at least some carmakers are trying to return a sense of style to the lineup.  Of course, there are those that will never learn.  Acura continues its trend of bottle opener noses.  Toyota continues to build cars that are offensive to anyone blessed with the gift of sight.  Audi insists that every car they make look like a silver Twinkie or a suppository.  Even BMW, who makes great driving cars, designs everything to look like uncooked loaves of bread.  In spite of this, I believe hope is there, and that the concepts of today will eventually become the stylish cars of tomorrow.

Hyundai Veloster

Kia Soul

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos Courtesy of, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Citroen, Kia, and Google Images

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