QotW: Why aren’t there more good looking cars?

One time I was explaining to my non-car guy friend how there are entire schools specializing in automotive design. Car companies spend millions on every visual detail, like picking just the right shade of red. And everyone knows that buying a car is, for many, an emotional decision, and that a beautiful shape can dupe unsuspecting consumers to buy a car that’s otherwise crap. My friend was confused, and it was warranted. His exasperated response:

Why aren’t there more good looking cars?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What automotive dreams would you fulfill with $1.9 billion?

If we had billions we’d happily contribute to all the respondents to make their dreams come true. What was particularly heart-warming was that many chose not to use the money for personal gain (well, maybe a little), instead opting to do things for the greater car community.

Sedanlover kicked off the theme of positively adding to JDM car culture by creating a Goodwood Festival of Speed-type event. CycoPablo wanted to fund Ukraine with Bushmasters and buy a race track for people to use. Similarly, Jonathan P. also said he would buy land for an autocross/drift circuit and open it for car meets, proving there’s a dearth of such venues in the world. Steve merely wanted to, selflessly, revive the JNC forum (if anyone knows someone with the technical skills please let us know!). Nigel‘s succinct and straightforward cry of “Honda reboot!” spoke volumes and nearly won the week. エーイダン would start a show about cars, dankan a new race series that recalls the heyday of open-wheel competition, and Michael K. would build a real-life Gran Turismo garage.

However, the winner of the week was Nihontekko, who concocted a hilariously roundabout Rube Goldberg plan to drive his dream car, but doing a whole lot of good along the way:

Let’s see if I can land this dream on a $1.9B runway…

I’d start with a dealership. Mazdas to be specific. The lot is full of only MX-5s at first. Is it profitable? Doesn’t have to be, right now. Start a dealer-specific modification package a-la Don Yenko, so my last name becomes as recognizable to speed-thirsty Mazdafarians as Zoom-Zoom. Within 3 years we start buying junkyard rollers: RX-3s, 4s, 7s, NAs, NBs, Cosmo APs, MX-3s, B2200s, you name it. The factory restorations begin. We need unobtanium trim pieces? We start making them. Owners the world ’round can come to us for high quality repro parts at the service center where we service any model, any year, properly. Eventually our own like-new restorations get placed on the showroom floor like any other car and we become the worlds only Mazda Universal Dealership. It becomes so popular, SevenStock moves to our dealership, we host JCCS in 2032, and eventually Mazda Corporate absorbs us into their factory restoration program. With a mountain of humility and years of Mazda faithfulness, I humbly ask for a drive in the 787B…It’s a beautiful say in Sarthe as I don my period-correct race suit and helmet. Men and women in light blue pour over the internals for one final check before it’s newest pilot attempts a flight. Strapped in, the last though before takeoff is “It may have been an elaborate plan, but it worked!”

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!
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This post is filed under: Question of the Week.

17 Responses to QotW: Why aren’t there more good looking cars?

  1. Fred Langille says:

    Weeeeel … designers take their cues from their surroundings, am I right? So, with the global ball of confusion prevalent in the universe today, if you expect to see happy-faced grilles or, crystal bud vases and overstuffed plushy seats and, whatever else … rotsa ruck! A bit on the negative side yes but, clear up the mess a bit … even with more positive colors for paint (have you noticed there are alot of gray cars sold new on the road these days?) then., the designers clay buck, pen and computer efforts MIGHT look better.

  2. speedie says:

    So much of the hard design points on a vehicle are regulated before the designer even puts pen to paper. The height of the hood, the height of the bumpers, positioning of the headlights, etc. Then you have to deal with aerodynamics which by science dictates a very similar shape. Then each manufacturer tries to design a “face” for their vehicles that often does not work on every or even most models (Lexus). There is still some great design language out there (Mazda) so all hope is not lost. That said I do not want things to swing the other way and see Suzuki X90s, Subaru Tribecas, and Toyota Will Vis making a comeback.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Once again Mazda has proven exception to the rule. Whenever a someone brings up safety or fuel efficiency as an issue, all one has to do is point to Mazda, which has a fraction of the resources of the big guys, but consistently makes cars that are not ugly, and many that are gorgeous. Subject to the same rules, very different results.

  3. Jay S says:

    Three things define the look of today’s cars: One is regulation, as the poster above noted. Second is aerodynamics. With the cost of fuel rising, every extra mile per gallon (or Kw) is precious, and cutting through the air more efficiently is a free way to get that mile. Finally, and most important, timidity by management. It cost over a billion dollars to launch a new design, Nobody in the C-suite wants to chance owning a flop, and with it, unemployment. So the edict to design is play it safe, do what the proven successes out there do. We won’t break new ground but we also won’t break the company. Virgil Exner of 1957, where are you?

  4. Clay says:

    I was kind of disappointed a few years ago when there was a big meeting of designers from several manufacturers and they all showed up wearing black. Lack of imagination?

  5. Mike P. says:

    Car design like every other product design is based mostly on current trends. Triangular in the late 70’s, boxy in the 80’s, jelly beans in the 90’s-00’s… these days every car has creases and sharp edges and slit-shaped lights and pointed front ends (almost like they are trying to look like Transformers). In the 2030’s there will be a new trend that every car will look like. And every once in a while, amongst the other look-alike trendy cars, a designer actually gets the right balance of old/current/new with a shape that hits you in the chest like a one-fingered death punch and design a good-looking car, and the manufacturer builds it close to the design and offers it in good colors. Can’t wait for the next car that fits the good-looking car category!

    • Jay S says:

      Hyundai-Kia are doing some good work and Honda, apparently, has finally got out of its Manga novel phase. Mazda has done some good stuff, but the big guys, Toyo-San lag in design and Suburu and Mitsubishi are not even in the ballpark.

      The new Z is an especially big disappointment.

      • Jay S says:

        It’s the Art Center College of Design, located in Pasadena. Another major school is the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. And Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY had a program in trans design, don’t know if they still do. There are several other schools overseas. But ACCD is still the main one.

  6. Taylor C. says:

    I also echo the above posters on regulation dictating a lot of today’s design. So many more requirements have become implemented into today’s designs that you just can’t have the same space claims / design freedom of yesteryear. Companies probably find it easier to just design a crossover off a car platform (which they already do) and stuff all the regulations equipment in there. Not sporty enough?, well, put in a big engine, big brakes, throaty exhaust, smack a red badge on, and that’ll appeal to the masses.

    Speaking of big, evolution has shown that things only get bigger (unless you’re the ND Miata), and so we just see large masses nowadays. The current Honda Accord might be appealing to some, but it’s become a huge car. You need 19s to make the car look proportional, whereas the 1990s Accord rode on 14s and 15s and looked just fine.

    I think a lot of us on this site also gravitate more towards the traditional “three-box” design, and that today’s swoopyness seems to ironically get a bit mundane now. A 1995 Camry SE coupe might’ve been boring back then, but I’m sure it looks pretty clean and handsome today. An E36 M3 sedan looks very tidy, proportioned, and lightweight, whereas today’s 3-series is forgettable. The first-generation G35 sedan looked great, with a recognizable side profile. Today’s Q70/80/90/whatever all have the same similar swoopy shape that you would never recognize now. It’s as if the designers of the companies all got their hands on the “sweep” feature in their design software and went to town; something that couldn’t be done back in the day.

    In a nutshell, cars used to be sculpted; nowadays they’re mainly decorated.

  7. MikeRL411 says:

    Cal Arts is to blame. This school turns out the most auto designers, so they are hired by all companies. They all use the same suite of software. Guess why all current designs look the same.

  8. Jeremy A. says:

    The short answer? What looks good to the eye and what moves through the air efficiently are two different things.

    The long answer? Due to crash safety regulations, price constraints, and the thermodynamic realities of internal combustion, in order to meet MPG targets fleetwide, small cars are required to be super aerodynamic in order to meet them, and SUVs are all just unappealing boxes on wheels, and the small cars have to subsidize the MPG targets for the top seller SUVs. And because the air doesn’t change appreciably from one place to another, cars end up looking like samey bars of soap designed to slide through the air with a minimum of fuss.

  9. Kenzo iida says:

    Hi, Ben,

    I am writing about the whereabout of two Shelby 2000GTs that I saw the garage somewhere near the border of MA and VT in 1991. I would appreciate very much if you reply me in this regards, sure if you have any information.
    I used to work at Chicago as a expat from Japan and it was the very last moment before I was assigned to fill the position at a head quoter in Tokyo. I was called by one guy who told me that he was working restoration job for two Toyota 2000GTs and wanted to sell one of those with two hundred thousand US dollars if I was interested in. So I went to his garage right after the call and found the one that was near completion and rest was just beginning of job. The one closed to completion was bearing #33 on the door trim with mag wheels in stead of wire and paint job of Team Shelby. And as far as I remember, last digit of chassis number was 05.
    I took a more than several shots but all those were lost because of natural disaster unfortunately. Oh by the way, it was not affordable for me as the price was almost double of my annual income.

    Pls tell me whatever you know or have in your hand regarding the garage or owner of garage as well as whereabout of those 2000GTs. Best regards,

  10. Lakdasa says:

    Easy, not all designs make it to concept stage, not all concepts become reality. This could be due to practical issues like funding, technology, legislations etc.
    Take the example of the Hyundai Ioniq6, a beautiful design but due to legislations in the USA they cant have some (design) features in the car. Same goes to the cars from the 1970s where they had to have the absorbing bumpers to pass safety, they made cars look ugly.
    Citroen SM said to be one of the most beautiful cars had similar issues, They couldnt have the swiveling headlights and the aerodynamic body styling due to legislations so they changed the look a bit making it ugly (in my eyes). Also worth noting the car was designed with no input from the tech team so they had to do with a Maserati engine.
    Car makers used to make cars for different markets differently (Nissan Sedan / Hardtop, Toyota Corolla EU market / US market / Asian market), but now its all become global manufacturing and now they manufacture one model for the whole world so they have to take into account all the nitty-gritty’s of the global legislations.
    What good it is to have a beautiful design from the design houses if they cannot be made a reality?

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