What is not happening with automotive styling

AussieMike

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Have we reached the end of automotive styling?

As I look at the new cars on the market today, everything seems to be so very conservatively styled. Forget the supercars, and hyper-expensive exotics, look at how bland the mass market has become. To be honest, I don't think there is a new car available on the market today that would look all that out of place if it had been released 10, or even 15 years ago. Headlights have become a lot more integrated with the front end, plastics are of a higher quality, and every brand has a "corporate" nose that they fit to every car in their range (no matter if it doesn't look good for all of them). But nothing looks all that different to cars released in the mid '90s.

Maybe that is why retro designs have become so popular, because there is nothing new with "new" designs.

The '50s gave us tailfins and chrome to excess. The '60s was about fuselage styling, inspired by the jet age. In the '70s just about everything had a "Coke-bottle" belt line (even the Cortina had the famous swoop). The '80s was all hard edges and straight lines. In the '90s everything was inspired by organic shapes, ovals, and curves. Since then, we haven't really moved on to the "next big thing."

Car styling has become stuck in a rut.

I want to be excited by a new car. I want to see something radical. I want to be shocked. Hell, I'm beginning to wish there were more ugly cars around. I don't want to become an old fart that starts every discussion by saying "Things were better, back in the day..." It's nearly the end of 2010, and cars still look the same as those made in 1990.

The technology of engines and drivelines continues to move forward. Interior design has come a long way, combining aesthetics with function, and advancing technology. Why has exterior design stayed so static?
 

JipJopJones

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I think part of the problem is that exterior design has taken a back seat to safety and practicaltiy.

A lot of new cars are bubble shaped and this provides more interior space, but it's also ugly as sin. Many cars have weird front ends now adays due to pedestrian safety, WTF? Peds should stay out of the fucking road, not make my car ugly. but alas, there is little we can do I think.
 

WillDAQ

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To be honest it's not a new problem, it's been a problem for at least the last 20 years. The only difference is that we've forgotten all the rubbish that came before.
 

Karoug

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The problem as i see it is that they can't stop designing them, instead of making clean simple designs they go overboard.
 

otispunkmeyer

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Citroen do at least make interesting, if not always beautiful, looking cars. They certainly stand out over the Germans.

You are right about the corporate face though, It does make sense to give the cars identity so that they can be recognised instantly as a BMW or a Audi, but some of the designs are just awful. Like Peugeot's weird gapping frog mouth bug-eyed look. its absolutely hideous and the only 2 cars in their entire range that it actually works on is the 308 CC and the RCZ, the RCZ more so because of its wide wide body and low roof line. It just kinda fits, and the 308 CC has a shark like quality to it.

Fords design identity is at least re-worked enough to fit each car so that they dont look stupid, but given the next gen focus I think that's about to go awry.
 

public

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Everything has been terrible since the mid-'90s, with only a few exceptions. That's why I hark back to older times.
 

WillDAQ

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The problem as i see it is that they can't stop designing them, instead of making clean simple designs they go overboard.

Speaking as the owner of a ridiculously over styled car I've got to say sometimes it's worth it!
 

Matt2000

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Have we reached the end of automotive styling?

No.

Maybe the cars all look the same in Australia, but in Europe they certainly don't. If you think they're all conservatively styled than I'd like to point you to the VW Scirocco, the Jag XF (Which Clarkson claimed would never look like it's radical concept), the Mazda RX-8 with its suicide doors, the Rolls Phantom, the Land Rover Discovery 3 and the new Evoque. They're all concept cars that have become reality, designs that 90's man would've only been able to dream of before going to get in his Audi A4 only to realise that he'd walked up to a VW Passat instead. Maybe the trouble is now we have these designs, nothing surprises us and it's becoming more difficult to come up with something radical.

As far as design styles go, how can you forget the BMW Bangle butt era, or the fact that the last decade has mostly concentrated on aerodynamic fluid designs like the BMW 3 series or the Insignia? Granted I don't like all the styles, but I don't hate them all either. I might prefer older cars like my Series to new ones, but the problem I have with them is not the design, but the driving experience that leaves you totally disconnected.
 

Eunos_Cosmo

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I disagree, on one front at least. There is definitely a 'noughties' styling trend ie: creased surfaces and other surface detail elements. I don't like it, chiefly because it's been done for over 10 years now, but there is definitely a trend. Look at the newest audis and nissans, they are all going for the juxtaposition of hard lines and angles with curves.

Sadly I cannot think of anyone (in the mass market at least) who is doing anything different. Mazda's newest design language is just more of the same really, although it is a very nice version I would say.
 

prizrak

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Sadly I cannot think of anyone (in the mass market at least) who is doing anything different. Mazda's newest design language is just more of the same really, although it is a very nice version I would say.

You just mentioned the Audis and you can't think of anything different? The B6 models (what I drive) are VERY different looking to the B7/8 models. Granted the B7 to B8 design hasn't been quite as radical, its more of an evolution at this point.

Problem with making hugely different designs for cars is recognizability. When I saw the new Taurus I had to look at the badge to tell what it was. This is a bit of a problem from the marketing perspective. People need to be able to look at the car and be like "oh this is a Benz" or something along those lines.
 

Spectre

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Part of the problem is the ever increasing amount of idiot legislation. Specifically, the current Euro pedestrian safety laws, which dictate a mandatory hood height and the US CAFE fuel economy laws.

Give a computer those two contradictory criteria to try to resolve when designing a car (or even just the CAFE requirement) and you end up with designs that don't look a great deal different from each other.
 

2Billion

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To be honest, all of the bland or bad designs from the past have been forgotten. There were plenty of awful designs all through history, but nobody cares about those.

The other problem is that some manufacturers which used to lead design and are freaking massive enough to do it, don't anymore. GM design died with Bill Mitchell's retirement, for example. VAG has given up completely, just recycling the same look in different lengths. BMW tried, but the reaction was so negative that it looks like the replacements are consoling themselves with a tub of ice cream. Chrysler might have been one of the style leaders in the '90s, but post Daimler the designs got confused and ugly (which, from all reports, was a reflection of the situation internally at Chrysler).

Honestly, the closest we had to a design leader in the 2000s was BMW, and you did see funky trunk lines and odd taillight shapes all over the place over the decade, but it was controversial enough that nobody really wanted to commit to it, leading to some halfhearted attepts at "flame surfacing" (Toyota is really bad for that) but mostly an attempt to err on the side of blandness.

If a rising tide lifts all boats, a falling one drops them. Without one manufacturer kicking ass - Chrysler in the '50s is the best example, as a glimpse at their upcoming lineup caused crash redesigns at GM - there isn't as much incentive to push the boundaries. When the closest you get to a boundary pusher is pretty well punished (BMW), you're going to get designers that are very risk averse.

I actually think that the next decade will be interesting, as people try to break out of the blandness spell that has gripped them for the past 10 years. Citroen has been doing very interesting things, Ford has a lineup which is possibly one of the best looking out there. Even the designs that aren't completely successful - Mercedes' bizarre rear fender treatment that they're playing with leaps immediately to mind, as does everything about the Nissan Juke - are at least risky and interesting, instead of being bland. If the 2000s were confused and cautious, I'm optimistic that the '10s will be a step in the right direction.
 

argatoga

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^ The refresh makes it look quite a bit different than the original.

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Blind_Io

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There are only so many things you can do with a car's styling.

Angles or curves?
Boxy or flowing?
Headlights big or small?

Automotive styling is like men's ties. Wide ties, narrow ties. The pendulum swings.

There's plenty of good and innovative styling still out there.
 

gt1750

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The reason is a combination of these factors:

- rather strict legislation
- marketing & mangement (predicted customer expectations, brand identity)
- mass production technology limitations (surfacing, shutline treatment, glass areas...)
- focus on ergonomics and economics (no more awkward rear-engined, rear-drive family cars)

Add all this together and you'll see there's very little space where designers can get creative. And even if they do, there's a fat chance that their proposal gets red light fom the management in favour of a more conservative approach that won't pose a threat for the group's similar model.
 

prizrak

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The reason is a combination of these factors:

- mass production technology limitations (surfacing, shutline treatment, glass areas...)
I think this is probably the biggest reason for all cars from the same manufacturer looking like different sizes of the same car. Everyone is trying to cut costs in some ways, especially when it comes to luxury cars, they can only cut costs in production because people expect certain amount of luxury on the inside so you end up with cars that all look the same because it is cheaper to produce the same curved surface in a different size than it is to actually change the surface.

This is partly why exotics can get away with crazy looks. I mean look at the R8, it looks unmistakably Audi but it doesn't look like any other Audi out there (though they are making the TT look similar now) part of the reason for it is that they can sell the car at a premium so manufacturing budget is less of a constraint.
 

Pedrocas

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Apart from the sportier most expensive models like those posted by Argatoga, the more common models are currently so boring when it comes to design, in part because of safety regulations, but also because people tend to buy more cars that look boring than others that look interesting and not-so-ordinary.
 

AussieMike

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I think Cadillac is the "exception that proves the rule." From every angle, it is instantly recognizable. I am quite upset that the global financial crisis killed the Australian export program. I think it would have done well here. I'd love to get my hands on a CTS coupe.

Jaguar had to do something major with their styling. The S Type was just terrible. But the first time I saw the XF, the first thing that came to my mind was a Volvo S80. The front and the grill just scream Volvo to me. A shame, because the rear and interior are just fantastic.

Yes, I really should hang my head in shame with regard to BMW. I was a Bangle detractor. I had no problem with the flame surfacing of the cars, but he just never seemed to get the boot/trunk and tail light right. Although the Z4 looked great from just about every angle.
 

Blind_Io

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I think Cadillac is the "exception that proves the rule." From every angle, it is instantly recognizable. I am quite upset that the global financial crisis killed the Australian export program. I think it would have done well here. I'd love to get my hands on a CTS coupe.

Except the Cadillac will soon be getting long in the tooth. Styling has already moved on to crisp body lines moving in flowing curves (Huyndai Sonata). The rest of GMs line looks very dated and out of place (as it has since the mid 1960s).

GM has been been consistently behind the styling curve by a decade or more for as long as I can remember. I honestly question whether or not the current Cadillac styling was GM being ahead of the curve or being so far behind in the race that they look like they are in the lead.
 
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