Car Design Driving Increased Car Sales? Spare Me

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
car design driving increased car sales spare me

A piece in Bloomberg that could hardly be seen as anything but relentless Detroit homerism puts forward the thesis that cutting-edge design is helping Detroit capture increasing market share in a white hot new car market. Per Bloomberg

From the fires of Detroit’s descent into near-death, GM, Ford and Chrysler Group LLC have forged some of the most distinctive designs since tail fins were soaring in the halcyon days of the postwar-era. Models such as GM’s Cadillac ATS sports sedan, Ford’s Fusion family car and Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee are turning heads and stoking sales.

On the strength of stylish new showroom offerings, GM, Ford and Chrysler all gained market share in the first quarter for the first time in 20 years. Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s staid standard-bearer, the Camry, has endured three months of declining sales as the automaker ceded U.S. share this year.

Rather than single out Detroit as the object of my scorn, I will say that we are far from a golden age of car design, and that sentiment transcends vehicle nationalities. Safety regulations, CAFE and a relentless focus on fuel economy have made most cars look utterly homogenous; nearly all sedans are some variation of the reverse teardrop shape, while crossovers, tall wagons and SUVs blend into the same amorphous two-box conformity. There are a few standouts these days and Detroit seems to have a disproportionate share of them; the Jeep Cherokee (which is distinctive if nothing else), the Jaguar F-Type, the Chrysler 300. The Ford Mustang will sadly be turned into another organic blob as the Blue Oval prepares it for sale in Europe and other world markets. The new Cadillac CTS is a wonderful execution of the concepts expressed in the ATS, but at a price point that’s off-limits to many of us. But by and large, it is getting harder and harder to tell one car from another.

Bloomberg pays particular attention to the Ford Fusion, the 4th best selling car as of April 2013. Even so it is still being beaten by three dull-looking Japanese cars; the Camry, Accord and Altima. Cadillac is resorting to incentives to push the ATS, a car that was already the subject of more Bloomberg boosterism and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, despite being a lovely SUV in every single respect, is not exactly a ground breaking design. Hell, the consistently criticized Chevrolet Malibu is currently ranked tenth in the sales charts despite being panned by just about everybody who fancies themselves an armchair Adrian van Hooydonk.

There are many factors driving the growth of domestic auto sales; the need to replace an aging vehicle fleet, the expansion of subprime financing on the part of certain manufacturers and of course, the general competitiveness of a wide number of American cars. But to suggest that we are in a “Golden Age” of design not seen since the 1960s – a truly superlatve era for automotive design in America – is an absolute farce.

Join the conversation
3 of 62 comments
  • Good ole dayz Good ole dayz on May 22, 2013

    >>My opinion, Detroit has some good designs out, they have improved on their reliability, improved on fuel efficiency, and are making competitive cars. I have well-founded doubts about the UAW-manufacturers' quality (my first and only new domestic, a 2006 Jeep Liberty, has taught me that Detroit still has a lonnnnng way to go to catch up to the Asians). That aside, count this as vote for decrying the generic hard-to-tell-apart look coming from nearly all manufacturers: oversized grilles inspired by the largemouth bass; excessive busy-ness on the sides with lines and swoops galore, along with exaggerated wheel arches rendering a too-busy baroque look; and my biggest gripe: the bunker look of high beltlines and small (almost non-existent) glass area. The latter is not only unattractive, but IMHO a safety hazard.

  • Hummer Hummer on May 23, 2013

    Agree with the author, new cars are boring and bland in design, still using the same crappy material adopted in the 70/80s just in different designs. Integrated bumpers on cars have to be the biggest eyesore on the road, extremely ugly.

    • Summicron Summicron on May 24, 2013

      "Integrated bumpers on cars have to be the biggest eyesore on the road, extremely ugly." So completely agree. No matter how magnificent the metallurgy and engineering between them, your first and last view of any modern sedan is a swath of slimy, shiny polypropylene. Or worse yet, the pebble textured, stiffer crap that afflicts the front of every base model pickup.