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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Rounded versus Flat

In an attempt to be philosophical about the design journey of the automobile in the US, I'm going to write briefly on how the look of American vehicles has changed over the years, and what it means for the future.

Basically, all cars in a class look the same in a generation. That's a gross generalization but in general it's true. All four door mid-size sedans in America kind of look similar, and definitely have similar lines.

I guess when cars started becoming popular around 1900, they had flat faces. This lasted until the 1930s, when they started to get round. The round phase lasted until the end of the 1950s. Then they went back to flat faces, which lasted through to the early 1990s.

There was always a car that was a blockbuster that changed the design focus. In the early 90s it was the Ford Taurus. Don't ask me what it was in the 1960s, or 1930s, but it's apparent that something popular changed the whole design viewpoint of those eras.

I think we're about to hit a new era. The 300c is the first car in awhile to have a flat face. Every other sedan sold in America has an angled face, and a "jelly bean" shape. The 300c is a complete three box car. The front and back are quite flat faced. It's the next big design change.

I expect to see a great deal of cars in the next few years with flat faces, and chrome. GM is notorious for copying competitors, as well as any Japanese manufacturer. Flat will be in. It'll be a gradual transformation, but 10 years hence, virtually every new car will look "300c esque". Just like every new sedan sold in America now sort of looks "Ford Taurus esque". I know that sounds crazy, but think about it. Look at American sedans in the mid-80s and compare them with the first generation Ford Taurus. The difference is remarkable.

We're already seeing the limits of the jellybean shape. The Pontiac GTO is a lackluster seller, and has been labelled as boring. It's got a great interior, isn't offensive aesthetically, the cheapest RWD v8 four seater car on the market, and yet it can't sell. All because of a bland inoffensive exterior.

The 300c is trashy looking, comes from a car marque that is not known as a market leader, and yet is selling like gang busters. Flat is back.

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