During my postgraduate degree course a quarter of my studies were in industrial design. There has always been a struggle between two contrasting design ethics, the minimalist form/function camp and the stylist camp. Sometimes the minimal look with it’s form constructed from the ground up to be perfect for it’s function, can be beautiful looking. But as with anything that has to appeal to human fickleness and fashion, people get bored of that shape, that beauty, so styling is essential in modern consumer goods, to product differentiate and for your products to prosper.
Let’s move on to automobile styling. Many cars produced in the last decade have a very similar ‘born in a wind tunnel’ look to them. This is because of a push for fuel economy, greenness. A car shape can make a big difference to drag and therefore fuel consumption. Now if every car manufacturer wants good fuel consumption results and have spent years optimizing the engine efficiency they must really have some brand styling to make their cars more appealing than a competitor. Along with the styling comes a degree of ‘quality’, reliability and brand identity positions to make the car more desirable.
To create eye catching styling, but remaining aerodynamic auto designers have been designing ‘within the shape’. Mostly they alter the lighting panels within the shape and also the side and area of the windows. Notable are the new Astra and C3 windscreens and the rear lighting panels on ther Civic.
A lot of auto design styling uses transparent sections, lights areas and shapes. Incidentally I have personally noticed the back of many newer model cars look like cartoon animal faces, German cars are mostly angry bears.
You can look at car reliability tables and the most recent tables I saw put Honda at the top and Renault at the bottom. Though Honda aren’t the most expensive cars, people pay heavy premiums for many European marques such as BMW, Audi and Jaguar which also rank lower in the reliability tables than American brands like Ford.
Compare and contrast wind tunnel designs above and the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado from the golden age of motoring!
Personally, because outrageous Harley Earl designs are no longer available, I just choose my car based upon functionality; economy, size and reliability. Interestingly, Nissan has produced a vintage styled modern engined small car called the Figaro, I hope this trend will be built upon and bring more style choices to us.
What the future holds for car design with fuel prices now at £1.20 per litre is surely even more efficiency considerations and alternative fuel source hybrid developments. Lets also hope for a bit more styling variety.
I’ve just found a great link of the Top 10 Concept Cars of the Fifties, containing lots of great pictures of 50′s concept cars including Harley Earl’s day to day car, the 1951 General Motors Le Sabre. Check it out, well worth a look!