What has happened to car design? Just a few years ago, one could easily and instantly recognize all the different car models on the road. Is there any mistaking a Porsche 911 zooming by? Everyone know the Honda Civic, for many years one of the best-selling cars around the world. The iconic shapes of the Cadillac coupe deville and the Lincoln Town car are a part of modern American culture. Even BMW had a memorable silhouette, its somewhat boxy but still stylish outline a favorite of yuppies for many years. Mercedes, Audi and Subaru had their unmistakable design features. The auto makers worked to give their models a distinctive shape and personality.
One of the original pimpmobiles:
No more. Something quite strange has happened. The origins of this strange phenomenon can be traced back to the mid 1990s with the explosion of SUVs. For reasons still not completely understood, an enormous block of American consumers had the overpowering urge to go out and buy gargantuan, gas-guzzling behemoths which appeared closer in style to military armored personnel carriers than traditional automobiles.
Classic BMW styling:
For the first decade or so of SUV sales, the market was dominated by a handful of Japanese and American car makers. Lincoln, Cadillac, Porsche, BMW and other auto makers kept their distance and maintained their individualistic design mottos. Finally, perhaps inevitably, ALL of the major car manufacturers jumped on the SUV bandwagon and produced their own models to grab a piece of the lucrative market. Imagine the reaction of the engineers and designers at BMW and Porsche when the owners came to them and said, “You guys need to design an SUV to sell to the fat Americans. And also, let’s jettison the design that’s worked so well for us for 50 years and start making our cars look generic.”
I don’t need to look closely at the company icon on the hood to know what this is:
So, not only did all the companies start building SUVs, they also made their original models conform to the design aesthetics of SUVs. Now here we are in 2015, and most brands on the road are unrecognizable. Everything looks like a miniature tank. Every day I find myself looking at a car and wondering, “What is that?” I then peer closely at the front grill to see that its a Cadillac. Or perhaps a BMW. They bear no resemblance whatsoever to their forebears. Big, flat front grills with rectangular angled headlights swooping in from the side dominate the ‘fascia.’ The headlights all bear a striking and downright eerie resemblance to serpent eyes, so not only are the cars bulky and ugly, they also are sinister.
Back ends are now higher off the ground, tires are fatter and windows have shrunk, again emphasizing the militaristic, excuse me ‘sporty’ look of modern cars. They all look quite ridiculous, but no matter. The consumeristic, wannabe middle class types will go out and buy them, as the concept of aesthetics is one that escapes them.