Piston Slap: Automotive Design Studio Inbreeding?

piston slap automotive design studio inbreeding
TTAC Commentator halftruth writes:Hey Sajeev,I see a lot of manufacturers using the binocular style gauge motif (see Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Avalon, Chevy Cruze for example) and I hate it! I also see a lot of carmakers using the upside down triangle motif in a lot of their steering wheel designs. We can even throw in the obligatory fuel AND coolant gauge.. they all seem to do this same thing with little variation. That said, if we look thru history, this mimicking has always gone on.But why? Sometimes a bad idea is just that and shouldn’t be copied: I am reminded of huge gaudy consoles that take up legroom- for an automatic.Sajeev answers:Many, many moons ago, I studied Industrial Design at the College for Creative Studies. I was deluded enough to think I could be the next Harley Earl/Bill Mitchell/Jack Telnack. Instead I learned a truth of the car business from the perspective of an idealistic college student.And if you notice an undercurrent of bitterness and sarcasm in my writings, well that’s also a byproduct of my time in design school. But I digress…Binocular style gauge clusters? They make you feel like you’re on a motorcycle. Which is cool, even if you don’t get it. After all, who doesn’t want a crotch rocket over a family sedan? I guarantee you that every clinic-demographic study done by the automakers justifies this styling trend.Upside down triangle wheels? Actually, I am okay with this one: tillers are more than just a way to steer and save your bacon (airbag) in a head-on collision. Thanks to cruise control, audio control, climate control and SYNC-like interfaces, the wheel should be a charming piece of design to keep you interested in the technology…when parked.My point: the car business is a lead-then-follow industry. Someone has the balls to do something nuts, and when said loony activity makes money, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Cadillacs got tailfins. BMWs got Bangle-Butts, Ford made the Taurus/Sable. Chrysler produced the Minivan. Nissan put clear taillights on the Altima. Technology like SYNC gave new purpose to an old steering wheel. And people like a sedan/CUV that’s influenced by a sporty motorcycle, too.It all brings home the bacon. As Grandmaster Flash said:“Cause it’s all about the Money, ain’t a damn thing Funny.You got to have a con in this land of Milk and Honey.”
Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:When did you realize this sad truth about car design? I learned about copycat designs with my favorite car, a 1983 (Fox Body) Lincoln Continental that’s been in the Mehta garage since 1986. At the time, the Hooper inspired “bustleback” coachwork from Lincoln, Cadillac and Chrysler proved that everyone had the same idea. And I am not sure if any other moment in history made the point quite this clear! Hooper’s designs were famous for a long hood, short deck and a sweeping beltline that dramatically tapered down to the rear bumper: the 1980 Cadillac Seville was the first to see gold in that pre-war styling notion. Chrysler was certainly the wildest with the 1981 Imperial coupe, yet I thought the 1982 Fox Continental’s incorporation of the fake tire hump and Rolls Royce style grille (both Lincoln hallmarks for decades) worked the best on the retro-British theme. Plus, the automotive experts at Motor Trend liked the Foxy Conti better than the Seville, so now I know I’m 100% right.Who knows, maybe disco music and endless lines of coke was part of the problem in the years leading up to those three redesigns. Or not.
Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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  • Realpower1 Realpower1 on Feb 22, 2012

    like the PC industry the auto makers are really assemblers of other vendors technology. the cut throat pricing nature of the mainstream market dictates that design is driven primarily by cost, and therefore centers around a best known method and the current investment in plant and tooling. the steering wheel thing is actually getting hilarious.. they look EXACTLY the same from the cadillac cts to the imports at 1/2 the price.. 1 maybe 2 or 3 vendors at most control the vast majority of any given component market so the same technology is simply repackaged in whatever shape and connectors are required for a specific make and model.. in the case of the steering wheels we are all forced to look at the results.. in other words.. there is NO ONE at GM designing steering wheels... or even caring what the look like.. given that hi-grade plastic work is expensive, it is beyond me why in the interest of brand identity and value why i have to look at the exact same climate control knobs in a cadillac dts as in a chevy rental car.. how much more can that really cost to order up 200,000 in a slightly different texture..? the destruction of brand value continues in detroit..

  • Occam Occam on Feb 27, 2012

    I have a few points to make on this issue... 1. Design aping. No doubt - But this seems to be the norm. Fins, round headlights, dual-beam round headlights, opera windows, padded vinyl roof coverings, ribbon spedometers, etc. In any generation, cars all basically look the same. 2. Ergonomic fads. OK, I'll not bemoan the loss of bench seats. I'm a stick-shift guy, and if there were a return to column shifters and bench seats, it would be the end of the stick-shift option in the few cars that still offer it. Think it's hard to find one in anything that's not a premium sport model or a Jeep Wrangler today? That would be the nail in the coffin. Also, bench seats are usually pretty uncomfortable for me... more on that in a sec: 3. Control standardization: This is an area in which I kinda wish they WOULD copy one another. If you ONLY drive your own car, fine, you get used to the controls. Lately, I've gotten Fords fairly often as rental cars, and I hate playing the mental shift-a-roo. It's bad enough driving an automatic in traffic, concentrating on NOT pushing the "clutch" to the floor and coming to an ABS-actuated quick-stop... Do I really need to remember where every other control has been relocated? Case in point, the overall standard in recent years seems to be: Headlights: Twist the turn-signal stalk forward towards the dash. Wipers: Push the stalk opposite the turn signals down to engage, up to "mist", pull toward you to wash. If rear wiper is equipped, twist this lever to engage. Audio controls: left half of the steering wheel Cruise Control: Right half of the steering wheel. The Fusion was kooky - Headlights on the dash by the change tray, wipers on the turn signal stalk, and a crazy mix of buttons on the wheel, all tiny. A few years back I drove a Malibu with the cruise on the left side... more than once I tried to turn up the volume and found myself accelerating on the FL Turnpike. If memory serves, my grandmother had some old Detroit-beast (Crown Vic perhaps?) with the horn on the signal stalk! I don't care who invented what layout... it would just be nice if they could put them in the same place. They all standardized on one location for the turn signal stalk, pedal order (no Model T craziness), P-R-N-D-L on the slushboxes. Stop reinventing the wheel!!! 3. Ergonomics in general: This ties into my feelings on bench seats, and comments about the consoles. Different folks have different shapes, and fit better in different layouts. I hate sitting on a bench seat, or even a bucket with poor side bolsters. I want the seat to help hold me snugly in place, and I don't want wide, flat surfaces like I seem to find in Fords lately (the Fusion, again - clearly designed for the wide-of-buttocks crowd). Describing a car as "too cramped for 6 footers" is misleading. I don't need a lot of headroom, but I do need a LOT of legroom. I'm only 6'1, but I've got that gangly long limbs - short torso Daddy Long-legs configuration. The Fusion was a bit cramped. The Element had tons of pointless headroom, but I couldn't get the seat far enough back. The Fit is terrible for my legs. For me, a low, squat car with a low seat and leg stretching space is golden. My current ride is a '11 Scion tC: I've sat in very few cars that fit me so perfectly (the Hyundai Genesis comes to mind - The Accord Coupe is Okay, but the seat is a bit high for my tastes, and too wide and flat). The comments about different seat configurations do speak to a need for variation. When the automakers charge out lemming-like and follow the leader, there is less variety for people with different preferences. I couldn't care less that the tC is on the list of cars that TTAC folks hate for various petty reasons: It met every requirement I had in a new car perfectly. Lots of legroom, no knee-banging console, clearance over my knees for the wheel/column (and the flat-bottom helps with that), low seat, thick bolsters, two doors (so that when the seat is all the way back, I have an armrest that is actually NEXT to me, instead of a chunky B-pillar.). On top of that, it handles securely with minimal float and wallow, is available with a manual transmission, and unlike most of the sportish coupes, has a usable back seat for when my kids are with me. A home run in every regard.

  • Terelaad The entire plant is just a toy for the rich.
  • Seanx37 If it made economic sense, it would have happened decades ago. No one would insure such places. And few are going to take $60-150k electric cars off road unless they are very wealthy
  • MaintenanceCosts Seems pretty obvious that they're leaving room for a SRT with the 2.0T and the electric motor. The R/T will probably be slower than the GT given the extra weight, but without the 9-speed it will be a much nicer drive.
  • Art Vandelay Lawyers would Eff it up. That and the NIMBYS. I agree with you, but it ain't gonna happen
  • EBFlex They are getting rid of the Charger and Challenger for a modern day Neon?just end it Dodge, you had a great run