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No more Innovation in Automotive Design

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No more Innovation in Automotive Design
Photo credit: lucamascaro / Flickr

From the time cars were first invented until the 1980s everyone looked forward to the new cars coming out. What was changed? What new models were being introduced? What innovations were being incorporated? But, all of a sudden, things changed, and the level of innovation has become void of any “newness”.

As a result, designs have become homogenized and bland. Even trucks seem to have lost any level of individuality. So, one has to wonder if innovation has truly gone away in modern car design?

Reaching For Something New

In the 40s, 50s and 60s, car designers were continually looking for something new: more power, a sleeker look, etc. Cars that had flair and flavor, like the Ford Thunderbird, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Dodge Dart were being introduced. Also, many other iconic cars were being created, and sold to the public like the Dodge Charger, the Ford Mustang, and the Chevrolet Camaro.

Even when the “gas crisis” hit in the 1970s, auto manufacturers still tried for style and panache when they came out with a new model. The Chrysler LeBaron, the updated Chevrolet Firebird, and even popular imports such as the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic had their own individuality.

Middle Ground

Unfortunately, in the 1980s and 1990s, auto manufactures stopped looking outwards and started looking in. Car styles stayed essentially the same, year after year. It became difficult to tell the difference between year models. Cars like the Ford Crown Victoria and the Chevrolet Impala were the darlings of America’s law enforcement, but it was impossible to tell of what model they were driving, a 1995 model or one from 2005.

Even high end vehicles like Lexus and Mercedes had such a similar look that you had to examine one twice just to make sure you were getting in the right car in a crowded parking lot.

Reaching For Something Old

Car makers have hit many bumps in the road over the last decade, and have tried everything from a government bail-out to resurrecting old nameplates, and body styles to push sales. Dodge brought back the Charger nameplate but put it on a sedan. They also brought back the Challenger with a very similar body style to the Challenger of the 1970s.

Ford reintroduced the Mustang, and revamped the body style in 2005 to “bring back” the 1960s muscle car feel. Chevrolet dropped nameplates and brands all over the place including Saturn, Oldsmobile and Pontiac in an attempt to consolidate resources and design efforts. But as for that “something new,” it hasn’t really surfaced yet.

Obviously, some vehicles did strike a chord like the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Some stood out in their own ways like the Chevrolet HHR and the Pontiac Solstice. However, most modern “innovations” seem to have gone into adding bells and whistles like navigation systems, cell phone Bluetooth integration, and many other “cool” features like backup cameras.

You used to be able to look at a car and instantly tell what it was and what year it was. Today, if you don’t look at the name badge on the vehicle, it could be a Honda, a Hyundai, a Ford or a Chevrolet, no big difference. With very few exceptions, automotive design innovation is dead.

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