Tuesday, November 25, 2008

MINI E recruiting

As if they will have any trouble at all, MINI sent out an email today to recruit folks who might want to lease an all electric MINI Cooper Hatchback. Count yourself out if you don't live in LA or the New York/New Jersey areas. Don't expect to carry much more than a few bags and your best pal, as the entire back seat (such as it is) is sucked up by the batteries. And don't plan on going more than 60 miles from home. You have to make it home to recharge, and 120 miles will be pushing it. In an emergency, you can plug into a conventional wall outlet, but you will need to run the cord from your motel room as it takes 24 hours to charge it up without the home charger, getting dirty looks from the motel manager the whole time. 

So, the take home message seems to be: go ahead and lease the car, if you don't really need a car. I hope they actually get some real world information, something more than yes, you can in fact run down to the seven-eleven for a jug of milk in this thing. 

On the positive side, it sounds like it is fast. The site hints that the acceleration needs some getting used to, as in, don't look now, but you are already there. And it is very quiet. Don't run over any unsuspecting kids or elderly folks who were expecting you to be making noise! Handling: as good or better than the conventionally propelled MINI. Could be that the morning commute just got alot more fun.

My guess is that MINI buyers will be lining up. And that is the bet the folks at MINI are making too, to judge by the FAQs at their site. "What if my MINI E dies, do I get a new one?" Sorry, no. "Can I keep it past the 1 year lease?" Sorry, no. Oh well, can't hurt to ask...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Design Theory 1: Small Is Where the Action Is

Look at the designs from any manufacturer, and I find that their smaller cars are better looking. And by that, I mean more fun, distinctive, and a pure expression of a design theme. And yes, I think fun is important. Cars should be fun. Fun can be serious too, as in serious fun, as in what is probably the best looking car ever: The entire BMW 6 series. Even the new ones with that funny business going on out back. But my real favorite:

Toyota - Yaris looks better than a Corolla, Camry or Matrix.
Honda - The Civic is a more pure, clean design than the overly busy Accord.
Chevy - The Malibu sure is better than the Impala. (sure the Aveo and Cobalt are dogs, but there has to be some exceptions)
Caddilac - Their relatively small CTS looks better than any of their other beasts.
MINI - The regular Cooper, over the Clubman any day. I can't even look at that SUV prototype.
Mazda - The getting long in the tooth 3 is still better looking than the new 6. The 7 over the 9.
Ford - Fusion has a more aggressive look than the 500, I mean Taurus. And again, look no further than previous posts to find me railing against the Focus.
Nissan - I even like looks of the much maligned Sentra over the overworked Altima and Maxima.
BMW - I am a sucker for the aforementioned 6 series, and the Z4 coupe. I like the 1-series hatch, but the 3, 5, and 7 series all look way overworked to me. 
Audi and VW - All of them look pretty bad in the past few years with that huge gaping grill. It looks equally bad on the big ones and the small ones. Although, I could come around for an A5. Nice looking car, grill and all.
Mercedes - I confess: I cant tell them apart. Between confusing letter number combos, and so many models, I gave up a long time ago. There are some nice looking 2 door hardtops out there though that are pretty slick. 
Volvo, Lexus, Infiniti - All better in their smaller models. Period.
And then there are companies who dont make any good looking cars, big or small. Chrysler, I am looking at you. You too Saab, Lincoln, and Suburu.

When setting out to design a smaller car, there isn't as much room to put in a lot of bad stuff. The resulting design is more pure, and when well done, can be more powerful. And more fun!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Toyota = Ugly

Now, I don't want to get all mean, but what is going on at Toyota? Sales are down, and the cars, well, I wouldn't want to lay claim to authorship.

Have you seen the Corolla? It went from a bland kind of somewhat ugly, to an overworked, "look-at-me" kind of really ugly. They seem to have tried to fit each and every one of the Camry's curves and bumps onto the smaller car, and it looks like it just barely survived. And sibling Matrix was never much of a looker. Poor thing.

Not that the Camry was such a great thing to try to copy. It so badly wishes it was born a BMW it hurts. In the end, the design is not bad, but seems more scatter brained than its arch rival, the new Accord. And languishing off to the side is the Avalon. Not getting a whole lot of attention now that Prius and Yaris are stealing the show.

I don't even want to start on the CUVs, SUVs, and trucks. Not that I am much of a fan of any of these sorts of vehicles, but if I was needing to teeter up high in some sort of cart-wheeling, leather padded cell, well, I'd look for one that I didn't feel sorry for.

The bottom line: Toyota's sales are down at a time they should be taking off. Toyota is mighty happy it isnt GM, but if they had cars that looked like something you'd want to wake up to in your driveway, they'd be in an even better position.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Big Things In Small Packages

Well, the New York Times is reporting (you have to register on to view) that more people are optioning up their small cars as they trade in the SUV. That should be good news for car makers. For Detroit, it is mixed news, as how many people want a loaded up Aveo? How about a Cobalt GTI? Caliber S? Focus M?

Well, Detroit just doesnt have anything to compete in the premium compact segment. There is nothing that can come up against a MINI, Audi A3, or even a New Beetle convertible all tricked out. Nothing that is fun, sporty, or can be made to be so. Nor anything on the way, that I can see. Ford even just cut out some of the better versions of the Focus.

Oh well...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Who is square now?

I am a big fan of the VW Squareback. As a variation, or "Variant" of the Type III, it was introduced in the US in 1965, about 4 years after its German debut as a notchback. During that time, they developed the Squareback (the name Variant was too close to Valiant) and the Fastback. 1968 saw the introduction of electronic fuel injection, a first for a production economy car inthe US. And around 1970 ushered in a slightly larger update.

Using the platform of the bug, this car brought a modern sensibility to the VW stable of cars. Providing 30 mpg, and 30 cubic feet of cargo space, it was cheap to use and versatile. While no letters were written home about blinding acceleration (this was the 60's and there were other cars for that) the Squareback surely gave over 800,000 owners practical and dependable transportation.

One of those owners was my brother. Around 1968 he came home with a white Squareback, which provided him the ability to haul equipment for his garage band gigs. He didn't seem to have it long before he traded it in on an Austin Healy, causing our father to be at no loss of words. The two cars were a Dr. Jeckle/Mr. Hyde thing, and I guess my brother had to go through both sides. Within a year, he had settled into an older Volvo sedan which led to a long line of practical and dependable vehicles.

While my brother undoubtably misses his Austin Healy, I am sure he also has a soft spot for his Squareback as well. The Squareback definitely belongs to the class of small wagons I hold dear, for being
modern before their time.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Well, am I all alone on this? It kills me that Toyota is the only one with a really viable, profitable hybrid. Where the hell are the technology leaders, our German friends at BMW and Mercedes?

BMW has a "concept" hybrid that is based on the no-one-can-quite-figure-out what-it-is-for X6. They have some "efficient dynamics" features that are on the corporate site, but not on the USA site. And the features there are not listed as features on US cars. They have also created a small fleet of some 100 hydrogen cars, in their largest, luxury model mode, and are having them driven by invitation. Hardly getting real world use. This is all nice and good, but, we wont transition to hydrogen overnight, and so what we need are all the steps to get us there. Hybrids.

Mercedes is even worse off. Visit their site, and you can get more information about their classic car program than any new efficiency technologies. I honestly dont think anyone is going to get excited about Blue tech diesels. Diesel isnt running efficient enough to overcome the price gap.

I'm not impressed. These guys make GM look good.

If only GM could make a car that looks as good as the BMW 1 series hatchback...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nissan: Hot or Not

Well it has been a little while, but I've been thinking about this subject for a while. Nissan is a company that not only has a great 6 cylinder engine, has a good design department. But they dont always hit it just right. Take the Maxima, thier top of the line sports-y lux-o sedan. This model has been around for a long time, through the years has kept up with the times technologically, even been a leader. However, the design of the car has had a varied degree of success. Early generations in the 80's and early 90's looked pretty good, but had an obvious Japanese look to them, especially compared to the American behemouths drifting around them on the road. But consider the more mature iterations:

1992-1994 (3rd Generation):

Hot. With an overall clean look, this car really seemed show Nissan was getting its design team in place. While this looks pretty generic now, I remember being impressed by the clean design where nothing appeared out of place. At a time when Pontiac as slathering their cars with ribbed cladding, scoops, and other unmentionables, this stood out as a better way to go.

4th Generation 1997-1999

Not too Hot. This gen brought in a more full body styling, with a more full look to the hood, the fenders and the roofline. At first I did NOT like it, but over the life of the body style I got to like it pretty well. I warmed up the generally muscular look, which wasnt over done.

5th Generation 2000-2003

Not. This iteration of the car just looked overweight and bulbous. It lost alot of its sporty look due to the high appearance of the roofline, and awkward treatment of the window shape around the c-pillar. The big random blob theory of design seems to have inspired the headlight and grill shapes as well. Take off those sporty wheels, and you have a gawky sedan.

6th Generation 2004-2008

Hot: This more recent design brings the Maxima back into good graces with a solid modern design that is not overly fussy. Certain details were fixed in the later years to help improve the original design, inculding removing the chrome nose guard in the grill, and subtle changes to the headlights. The one odd detail that always gets me is the tail lights (suprised?) that take me right back to a 1958 Impala.

7th Generation: 2009-?

Maybe... Am I alone on this? Did they go overboard? Those headlights just can't be for real. That alone makes me doubt the rest of the design. The ridges down the hood. The somewhat sinister looking grill shape. It seems odd. But the treatment of the doors and rear fenders looks promising. I'll have to wait to see it in person.

Need more? Consider the Sentra. This humble model held down the entry level spot for years, before being undercut by the Versa. But this model has a cinderella story all her own.

3rd Generation 1995-1999

Not so Hot. Not too bad, but no standing out in a crowd with this vehicle.

4th Generation 2000-2006

Definitely Not. What the hell happened. The Random Blob School got control of this redesign, and did not let go. While it may have grown and gotten some new upgrades, just do not look at this car or you will turn into a pillar of greehouse gasses.

5th Generation 200x-present

Hot. This model shows what a little transfusion from France can do. Ooo-la-la. Nissan is back in the saddle. We have family resemblance, style and a fun looking clean little car.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Tail lights Aglow

You might think me fixated on tail lights, but these days they are almost all too big, too similar, and add very little distiction to the design of the cars they grace. I remember as a kid, riding in the car at night and being able to ID the cars going the other way by the tail lights. Forget about trying that these days.

Here are a few schools of design in the current crop of tail lights:

1) Completely Random Shapes: I think Infiniti really got things going in this department with the G35 Coupe. But others have jumped in, notably BMW, and Honda (Civic sedan). A large subset of this school is the random intersecting blobs, a fine example of which grace the back of Toyota Avalons these days. What is that stuff doing on the trunk lid? Why are they that odd shape and size? Did they shrink in the wash?

2) Tail light as fender: Initially part of the Completely Random Shape School, this movement has broken off with designs pioneered by Lexus and Toyota. Currently, Nissan takes the prize at this with the new Nissan Altima Sedan. The entire top and much of the side of the fender is part of the tail light, aft of the C-pillar. Why not build the whole car out of plastic?

3) Clusters Under Glass: These are almost passe now, but were cool when Lexus did them on the RS400 crossover. Once again, the Nissan Altima Sedan seems to have the biggest, most over the top example.

4) Anything LED: Caddilac got this going a while back (who'da thunk it) but now Audi, Land Rover, and BMW are getting on the bandwagon, and with a dollop more creativity than the guys at Caddy ever thought to use. I saw a Land Rover LED light cluster just today, and its pretty cool. You cant tell in the pic below, but the top lens is both the brake light, with red LEDs clustered in the center, and the directional signal, with yellow LEDs circling the edge. I think the bottom lens is the backup light. I like the understatement, alot.

So, you may ask, anything else good out there? Well, I like the HHR solution. Oddly similar to the Land Rover, but about 10,000 times cheaper. The '97 Toyota Camry had slim, horizontal red bezels that were simple and elegant. That was just before they moved towards the Completely Random Shapes school of thought. The current Honda Civic Coupe has tail lights that are not too big, fit their context, and work to reinforce the identity of the car. Anything else? Ummmm.... lets see now.

At least LEDs have a lot of promise of bringing more elegant, svelte solutions to tail lights. Lets hope it happens.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Inside Scoop

At The Truth About Cars, a recent question of the day asked if car interiors are important. I had to comment on that one...

But, it got me thinking I really do weigh the success of a car's interior on how I feel about the overall design. The themes on the outside have to show inside, and there should be some delight involved. After all, you are in your car, going some place, and it should make you happy.

Can I just say two words about color: More Please... Monotone interiors must go. Give me seats in one color or two colors, lighter tones on the dash, darker carpets, and door panels that bring it all together. You might say my ideal interior is this:

This beauty, an early '60s Pontiac, doesnt just have a red interior, no sir. It has 2 shades of red, plus the white of the exterior to create a composition that brings alot of delight, and 40 years into it, it looks fresh and progressive.

Here are my other guidelines for you budding car interior designers:
  • Banish all overly luxurious interiors that make you think that it would be a good place to sleep. Cars are terrible places to sleep... even if you are not the one driving.
  • Interiors should be interesting, express the point of view of the vehicle, as well as provide a functional space to control the car, the music, and the temperature. The seats have to adjust, as do the steering wheel, and I think the pedals too.
  • Intuitive controls (ie, something close to what people expect) are a must... I dont want to have to think too hard about where the horn button is, nor do I want to spend too much time changing the radio station.
  • And lastly, anything I touch or see should not have a creepy injection mold seam running up the side. I am quite bummed out that my new car has door pulls with a seam running up the back side (the side in contact with my hand, but not in view). Every time I get in and pull the door shut, I feel this little bit of cost cutting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Branding Debates

I have been thinking about branding alot lately. At work, we struggle with our 3, or is it 4 now, brand lines to keep them distinct. It is a real challenge to take what you do well, and roll that out into multiple brands that share certain qualities, yet maintain certain distinctions. Maintaining and improving these distinctions while improving each brand means we're always aiming at a moving target.

Same goes for car companies. Most of the voices out there call for paring down the number of car brands, and giving each one a more distinct personality seems right. The particulars of what people are calling for now are probably different than what they were saying 2-3 years ago. Gas prices, world economics, and buyouts change the symptoms, and thus the prescription. But clearly, there is an overcapacity, and the energy situation is requiring change.

While the economy is down, while there is a good amount of uncertainty, this is the perfect time to do something drastic. So please, let the US auto industry make some big changes now. Kill off divisions. Share platforms from other companies. Be leaders in reforming how health care is paid for in this country. Bring us real alternatives to how we fuel our cars. And even give us better ways to choose to leave the car at home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mazda: Using Design to Sell Cars

I really like Mazdas. I almost bought a hatchback Mazda 3, and still might if the Volvo dies suddenly (but not unexpectedly, after 240,000 miles). Apparently, I'm not alone, as this is one car company that is seeing sales heading up (at least in 2007) while so many others are wilting.

But, when you look at it, they don't offer anything anyone else doesn't, with the possible exception of the soon to be discontinued Mazda6 wagon and hatchback -- oh, and that funny rotary engine thing. Their cars get decent mileage, but not incredible -- again, except that rotary engine thing, which is addicted to gas. Interiors are nice, but again, not run away leaders in the pack. Reliability is also pretty good, so that doesn't hurt. But their shared platforms with Ford products mean you can pretty much get the same thing elsewhere. Even their "zoom-zoom" ad campaign is kinda lame. And aside from the Tribute hybrid, the only possible thing remotely green is the paint.

What Mazdas do have going for them is their strong design. (GM, Ford, Chrysler: please note that people actually do look at the exterior of cars.) Mazda's cars and cross overs look really good, and all have a corporate semblance so that you recognize each as a part of the corporate stable. There is a great aggressive sportiness, and a grace that goes into each model. Even the RX8, quirky as it is, is pretty charming. The only ugly duckling is the Tribute, a rebadged Ford. Mazda smartly uses design as the thing that makes them different, and different in a good way. And the progression of each model over time, especially notable with the Miata, and now with the new Mazda6 coming out, the picture just keeps getting better.

I only hope that they end up bringing the Mazda6 wagon here after all. It is really sharp looking. Maybe hook it up to a hybrid drive train. And put a big-ass sunroof in it. Throw in an interior that isnt a huge solid expanse of grey while we are at it. Bu-bye Volvo...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

GM Hybrids: +2 MPG!

Poking around on AutoBlog Green, I saw that your nice new Chevy Malibu (and its fraternal twin, the Saturn Aura) both are offered with hybrid technology. Cool, I thought.


What is not so cool, is that for a $2500 upcharge on the Malibu, or $3500 on the Aura, you can look forward to an improvement in your gas milage of exactly 2 MPG. That is awesome. No wonder Toyota, Honda, and even Ford are actually selling hybrids. They actually deliver some benefit to the owner, and the planet. Even Nissan is getting into the act with a limited number of Altimas, with parts bought from Toyota. 

If GM is going to bother, they should be able to do better than a hybrid system that gets you 32 MPG vs. 30MPG delivered by their 4-banger. 

Hell, I've said it before, but my '95 Volvo gets 30 on the highway if you treat it nice. If you really want to save money, you can buy an older (and I mean ~1997) Volvo sedan with 100K miles (that means another 100K miles left in it) for about 2 grand. Get the wagon if that makes your pants tight. Think of all that metal and other resources you'd be re-using. That in its own way is pretty "green". And, you save some green on your next car purchase. 

If you want to save the planet, well, thats not so cheap. Just don't throw money away on GM hybrids.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lets Nip this in the Bud

I'm starting to see a design element pop up on new cars that is mighty ugly. Extrenious chrome doo-dads clipped to the side of the car, just forward of the front door. The '08 Ford Focus, already challenged in the eye candy department, forced to wear this f-shaped thing as if it was f'ing pretty. And the poor Saturn Vue, also a bit of a mash-up, had to have one more thing added on, some vent looking things. 

Ford Focus Side BadgeThe Saturn Vue

One of the things I keep hearing about design, is when you think you are done, try taking something away, and see if it added anything. I hate to see the thing they took off these ugly ducks.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Did I mention I have a 65 Falcon Squire?

Well, it's true. So you can imagine my shock and dismay when walking to work that I see a total rip off of the tail lights on some kind of new GMC SUV:

Not that Ford was the only one doing tail-lights like these back in the day. I bet there was an Impala around the same time that had round lights with 4 or 6 radiating chrome doo-dads. But since a while back when Lexus shocked the auto world with its jewel like head- and tail-lights with their RS400, everyone and their mother has been cramming dozens of different light elements under one big uber lens. The idea for these things is to say, "look how cool and modern I am." So to see retro details inside a modern fixture makes one wonder where they were going with this. I wonder if the turn signals blink sequentially like my Dad's '69 Cougar. It says, "Look at my car. It has a little tail-light history museum built into the back."

Which in turn brings up this whole styling of rear lights in general. In my opinion, they are all way too big. If you look at a PT Cruiser, or a MINI, you can see that street legal lights don't have to be huge. So this is a design decision. Guy with the biggest red glowing things wins, I guess. Me, I'd prefer some sleek slim horizontal strip of light that seems tucked into a character line, and is perhaps even wraps around the side. Audi is starting to do something like this with the LED lights, but they are housed in a huge block of red plastic. Oh well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Early '60s Compact Wagons: Modernists Before Their Time

I like the cars of the early 1960's. And I like small cars. So it only makes sense that I like the 60-63 new compacts put out by the "big 3". My longtime favorite is the Corvair. The ultimate Corvair for me is a 62 Monza wagon. Yep, they made a wagon for two years. I'm not talking the Greenbriar van things, though I have fond memories, sorta. For '61, the Corrvair wagon was called the Lakewood. in '62, they called it the Monza, and put bucket seats in it. In '63, they called it a day, and introduced the convertible instead.

Those Corvair wagons were odd looking. The back of the car seems somewhat awkward, especially compared to their coupe brethren. The rear passenger doors seem huge, and the cargo area somewhat tall. I think this part of the design program must have been done by members of the Impala team. Maybe it was all to provide access to the engine sequestered under the cargo area. No 3rd row of seating here! But maybe there should have been a rumble seat up front! It would have been like those fiberglass motorboats, only even more unsafe!

But even still, they have a bit of grace, and a well restored one is quite delightful, as evidenced by this video.

Check out the four door sedan in the background, and how it's rear doors are actually cool in comparison!

Far more common, and I mean that in every sense of the word, are the Falcon wagons. But even these had some odd members of the family. There was the two door wagon, from which they built the Ranchero, or visa versa. And there was the Falcon Squire, complete with fake wood sides, and a list of upgrades inside and out, including a power window in the tailgate. In the interests of full disclosure, that pic of the blue Squire here is mine. Driving this baby around town gets looks, and it's great for running to the nursery to pick up plants when spring rolls around! There are some people who think it takes up too much space in the garage, but I disagree.

And then for sheer wierdness, look no further than the early Valiant wagons. Complete with Virgil Exner's trend setting body sculpting for the early '60s, the very first Valiants and Lancer wagons are now so rare that a search on Google comes up with just a few pictures from old "for sale" listings, and a mention on Wikipedia. By '63, the styling was toned down and the new models were easier to look at over time, meaning more seem to have survived. Meanwhile, Exner pretty much lost his job over the fact that the styling trends he put forth backfired. Other companies were cleaning up their styling. That, and he downsized the full sized models way too much right around the same time. Ooops.

Most of what Rambler was doing in their smaller cars at during this time was derived from the 50's cars and platforms, and were reminiscent of upturned claw-foot bath tubs. The Japanese were just getting going here, and if there is a wagon from this period, let me know! European imports were starting to take off, and the the only "wagon" I can think of would be the VW passenger van. The Morris Minor had a "woodie", but that was really seems like a 50's car. I am sure there were Holden wagons, or Vauxhalls, or some such thing. But these babies, while nice and surely idiosyncratic, are a bit outside of my world.

So, whats the point? These were practical little haulers. They are the same size as most sedans are now, and get about the same mileage. And with SUVs sales dropping like horse turds, it seems to me these cars are looking more modern all the time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

When Cute-Utes were cute

So who remembers when "Cute-utes" were in fact, cute? Well, cute is hard to define, but it at least implies the fact that they were smaller than the regular SUVs. 

Consider the Toyota RAV4. I just learned that is supposed to mean "Recreational Active Vehicle", while the 4 suggests either 4 passengers, 4 cylinders, and in some models (I assume) 4WD and 4 doors. There, 4 things that the 4 might mean. Nice symmetry.

Ok, so this RAV4 thing started out quite small. As a two door, and later, as a two door convertible, it was in fact, tiny!

So what happened, as typical in the US auto market, if a car is popular, it gets bigger. As the soon to be largest car company ever ever on the planet, Toyota sagely followed the GM playbook, and has progressively made the thing bigger. Now, 10 years later, it is the size that Ford Explorers were back when the RAV4 was introduced. Not so cute anymore!

I dont even want to think about how big Ford Explorers have gotten. Anyone remember the International Harvester TravelAll? The shiney new Explorer I saw the other day had to be as big as one of those!  Just about as pretty, too. No wood though. Too bad.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Shut your mouth when you chew!

The front of a car says alot. It sets the tone for the rest of the design. So what were the designers at Audi and VW thinking when they did these:
Gawd dang. Those grills are just plain ugly. I know they are trying to do something to conceal that 6" battering ram that the feds require, but Audi's corporate look makes me think of sitting back in the dentist chair... one of my least favorite activites. VW seems to have been unable to figure out a way to make this look good, so they just threw alot of shiny stuff at it. People like shiny things, right?

And it is too bad, as the rest of these cars are so darn nice looking. But I can't buy (or love) a car that has an ugly grill. I just can't.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Jeep in a Nash frock?

Who da thunk it? Jeep, who has pretty much built a design vocabulary around a single model designed over 50 years ago, seems to be reaching to its long defunct cousin Nash for some fresh ideas. Rummaging around in the family photo album, someone seems to have fixated on the Nash Metropolitan...
Might I bring your attention to the Jeep Compass, a FWD cute-ute (remember cute-utes?). Styling themes seem to have gone straight from one to the other...

Notice the design similarities:
  1. Headlights at the leading edge of a tunnel that reaches back along the hoodline
  2. Squared off wheel openings. There is a complete posting on squared off wheel openings somewhere in the future of this blog...
  3. The dip on the doors under the windows on the Nash are enlarged all the way down the side of the Jeep, nearly to the rocker panel
  4. The reverse angle used at the C-pillar, while used in a different way is there
  5. Bumpers fared into bulges in the fenders
  6. The Compass even tries to look like a 2-door, hiding the rear door handles in a very Pathfinderish way
  7. and the parking lights/turn signals on the Nash becomes the fog lights on the Jeep.
Granted, the first two of these have been seen on other Jeeps, but it is still pretty odd that such dissimilar cars end up with such a similar overall feel. The picture here actually makes the Jeep look OK. In person, it looks just as dorky a Nash Metropolitan, but not as cute. Just bigger. And dorky.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Corporate insignias: Corporate looking-glass

Walking home the other day, I saw a 2 or 3 year old Chevy Malibu with a GM insignia on the right fender, just aft of the front wheel. That got me thinking.

Chrysler used to have their "star" shaped pentagram logo in chrome on the entire corporate fleet. No more. Checked their sites, and didnt see insignia one. 

Looking on the GM sites, Chevies have it, Pontiacs have it. Caddy's got it. Even Saturns got it. Buicks dont seem to. Which made me wonder why.

Did you know that Buick has exactly 3 models to sell? Enclave, LaCrosse, and Lucerne. 3 models. The pathetic thing is they have a web page on their discontinued models, so you can pine for a Lesabre or Ranier. 

I'd put money on Buick going to where they put Oldsmobile. 

ADDED 6 APRIL 08. OK, so I was walking at lunch today, and saw a Lucerne. Stuck on the side of it was a GM insignia. Checked the other side. GM insignia. So, I stand corrected: The Buicks got them too. But with 3 models, and more Buicks being sold in China than in the US, you gotta wonder, does GM need a niche brand for the golf set?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Is Toyota the new Chevy?

Ok, for our first regular posting, lets fire up the way back machine...

Back in the '60s, when I was buying Hershey bars for a dime, it was the "Big 3", and then everyone else. Now, it is pretty much the reverse of that. Toyota is the new Chevy, aping the styling cues of its luxury cousins. Lets call Honda the new Ford, with its luxury divisions not quite ever getting it together. The new Ford (Honda) and the new Chevy(Toyota) still seem to be trading off who is winning the styling wars (personally, I am voting for Honda right now). And who gets to be the new Chrysler? Probably Nissan, since they have their "Imperial" line up all worked out now, and a bevy of trucks to boot. 

My point is that American cars are pretty irrelevant these days. Ford seems like those loose conglomerates of Britain, circa 1963: the Austin/Sunbeam/Healy mess that no one could ever keep straight who is in and who is out. GM might as well be the Toyota of those days, turning out odd looking vehicles that seem to linger in your peripheral vision. Not sure what the hell Chrysler is these days. Foreign cars are where the action is now. That part of the picture is kinda sad. Will these former greats make their comeback? Not if they keep turning out vanilla milkshakes on wheels.

The bright spot these days, is there seem to be more options to choose from. Gone are the small american independents, but we have an increase overall of makes available, giving us some great choices. The wierd thing is that Hyundai makes better looking cars than Chevy (yes, even the new Malibu), and Mazda made the greatest sales advances in '07, arguably a result of pretty good styling overall. 

Style-wise, the fun stuff is happening in the smaller car segments... Land-yacht and truck buyers are stuck wanting their Cordobas and 98's, with or without a cargo bed out back, regardless what it costs to send our boys to secure our energy future.  Oops, I wasnt gonna get political.

About AutoClay

What this blog is about:
Cars. Mostly about car design. I am not all that interested in the motor. I dont like to look under the hood. I like the fenders, the chrome, the look of the whole. But dont get me wrong: the thing has to move too. I love good results, and a quick and nimble ride makes me smile too. But mostly I like the styling of new cars, old cars, and those odd cars in between. Oh, and I like small cars. And station wagons. A lot.

Why am I blogging about this:
Not finding much discussion focused on this topic, and while I am inspired by some other blogs, I hope to get my thoughts on "paper" and share them with whoever might care to read. Also, I am no authority on the subject, but I am not finding much on the history of car design, and the relation to what is happening today. Classic car folks stay in their play pen, and new car folks stay in theirs. I like to look at both.

The name, "autoclay":
The challenge was to say automotive design in a quick, easy, smart way. I was thinking about the days when whole teams were responsible for modeling clay into design proposals. No computers, just paper, pencil, clay, and long hours. Not sure it makes any sense, but I'm not sure Jalopnik makes any sense either!

And so here goes... I have a nice list of topics I want to talk about. Please comment. Argue back! Thanks!