May 112013
 

Automotive companies have made waves in recent years with retro inspired styling.  All of the major American brands introduced one or multiple models that paid homage to styling from the 60s and 70s.  These cars give buyers from older generations a gateway into their pasts with modern versions of models from a simpler time, while also giving younger buyers a taste of the fast muscle car era.

What is interesting about the retro styling movement is that it’s limited to automobiles only.  Clearly there is an emotional attachment to our cars and the isolated nature of the automotive retro movement is proof of that.  The retro movement didn’t show up in any other form of consumer transportation, from motorcycles, to boats, and so on.  In fact, this retro styling movement did not show up in any other form of, well…anything.  Think about recent releases of other products in other industries.  From homes, to home appliances, to all forms of computers and electronics, to furniture, and so on, we didn’t see any real “throwback” trend.  The goods we were buying continued to get sleeker and more modern looking and feeling.

Now coming back to cars, I know some may say that perhaps the Chrysler PT Cruiser started the modern automotive retro styling movement.  I think they would be right.  After all, it was introduced in 2001.  But really, who cares about that awful throwback hearse anyway?!  That’s why this discussion is centered on the faster, flashier cars that better defined the retro styling movement.  This brings me to what is arguably the peak of this movement, and one of my favorites, the introduction of the 2005 Ford Mustang.

2005 Ford Mustang

Courtesy of Serious Wheels

This generation Ford Mustang ushered in an era of precise retro styling working in perfect harmony with current day technology.  It is really an automotive engineering marvel.  It closely replicated the styling of the late-1960s Mustang while adding a few aerodynamic cues, better fuel economy and better reliability.  This allowed the car to have mass appeal across generations of buyers and fans.  Men and women alike fell in love with this release of the Mustang.

That same year Chrysler released the 300 and the following year the Dodge brand released the Charger.  This was good for them because it helped boost sales within these brands, but was actually a little irrelevant considering the competition wasn’t promoting a retro styling movement in the full size sedan segment.  Think about it, did you see Cadillac taillight fins make a comeback?

It took until 2008 for another automaker to answer the call of the retro styled Mustang.  Dodge answered with the release of the Challenger, followed by GM finally reintroducing a retro styled Camaro in 2010.  All of these cars followed a similar retro styling philosophy to Ford with the Mustang.  Only issue here is that the Challenger and Camaro were three and five years too late, respectively.

Fast forward to the end of 2009 and we see that the Mustang was refreshed as a 2010 model, showing some curve while attempting to preserve the essence of the retro styling.  It is retro with a Euro-Japanese twist.  Clearly Ford starting transitioning out of the retro styling movement almost as quickly as it went in.

2015 Ford Mustang conceptualized

2015 Ford Mustang conceptualized, courtesy of Edmunds’ What’s Hot

The 2015 Ford Mustang has been conceptualized, and the departure from the retro styled late-1960s throwback is becoming even more evident.  Ford designers are taking the Mustang in a different direction, sleeker while keeping a strong presence.  It looks ready to go up against anything Europe has to throw at it, but the real question is whether the average buyer will be into it.  Regardless, if the Mustang defined the peak of the retro styling movement, then here in this case it is also marking the end.

This entry was first posted here on April 12, 2013.

Sep 242012
 
2006 Civic

Editor’s note: Not all car lovers are nuts-and-bolts people. Many don’t understand how most critical systems work. People for whom cars hold a sentimental or emotional value (“sentimentalists,” if you will), though, are an integral part of the automotive community. Far too many see the car as an expensive appliance and fail to appreciate the impact they have on our lives.  Sentimentalists provide that middle ground between car nerds (like, say, me) and the automotive philistines that carmakers seem to slowly be pandering to more and more. Here is one person’s story – an excellent example of why you don’t have to be a level-5 gearhead to love cars. –Chris

Full disclosure: this will not be a “car guy” post like you have seen before on this site, primarily for the following reasons:

#1: I’m not going to talk about things like tire size, horsepower, torque, steering, chassis, engines, or specs. Those posts are great, but I’ll leave those to the real experts.

#2: I’m not a guy.

I do, however, have a keen appreciation for and odd sentimental attachment to cars.

First, there’s something you have to understand about me. For my entire life, I’ve been developing these profoundly sentimental attachments. I blame this on all the hours I spent with my dad listening to music as a child. I’ve been heavily influenced by Cetera-era Chicago, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and countless other “mellow” soft rock artists. This was reinforced by my elementary school music teacher who made us sing the greatest hits from Chicago, The Carpenters, and, later, Ace of Base.

The music inspired not only a fierce sense of sentimentality, but a flair for the dramatic, as well. When I was seven my mom told me she was throwing my favorite stuffed animals (and best friends!) away because I didn’t clean my room. I “borrowed” her camera and spent a whole afternoon sobbing while carefully posing and photographing my stuffed animals so I could remember them forever.

She never threw them away. I still have them. It’s not weird. But I digress.

In 1986 my parents purchased a brand-spanking-new, red, shiny, luxurious, enviable… Chevy Astro. It was not even to be the boxiest of vehicles we would own. The van was great. So much cooler than my dad’s old Cutlass Ciera (don’t get jealous) or the Pontiac LeMans that would later replace it.

I loved that van, not for the piece of machinery that it was or any features it had (the only feature I was aware of, by the way, was one that I later learned was not even native to the vehicle: America’s History album on cassette, playing over and over and over again). I loved that car because of what it represented to me: childhood. It was family vacations to Ocean City, days spent at my grandma’s swimming pool with my cousins, and even bringing my newborn brother home from the hospital.

So in 1995 when my dad announced that we were trading in ye olde Astro for a brand-spanking-new model, a white, shiny, luxurious, enviable Ford Windstar (what-what?) … I threw a fit. I was twelve, and therefore probably just a tiny bit on the incredibly freakin’ dramatic side, but seriously. He was trying to destroy all of my happy childhood memories and I would never accept that Windstar as a new era for me.

For the first half of my teenage years, my bedroom walls were 100% covered, floor-to-ceiling, with pictures of Jonathan Taylor Thomas that had been carefully removed from Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, and Bop! magazines. The outside of my bedroom door, on the other hand, was adorned with a picture of a Ford Windstar that I had cut out of one of the dealership books we’d received. I used construction paper to cut out a big circle to enclose this image, and then placed a slash through it.

My friends thought I was super weird. I was just making a statement that all ‘tween girls make, though.

I am completely anti-Ford Windstar.

I never did accept that car. Not even years later when I sometimes practiced driving in it. I hated it with every fiber of my being and liked to frequently tell my dad how it was such a piece of crap. After it broke down on the way to Florida and the closest Ford garage refused to service it, he finally started listening to reason and agreeing with me. Clearly I was so knowledgeable.

Gosh. It was like he hadn’t even grown up as the car guy son of another car guy.

(For the record, my paternal grandfather died before I was born, but he was a successful used car salesman. He and my dad and my uncles used to go to car auctions and drive around in basically whatever car they wanted. So cars have been a thing for me pretty much since I was three and my dad invented a game for us called “guess the make and model of the next car that drives by our house.”)

Anyway, there’s no point in walking you through every vehicle my family has owned and my weirdo attitudes about them. Suffice it to say that we found our groove with Honda years ago, returning to that manufacturer after the 1992 Accord we had leased for a while was deemed to be one of the best cars we ever gave back.

2000 Honda Accord

Me with the 2000 Accord, heading to my Jr. Prom to dazzle people (and weird them out) with information about the Accord’s disc brakes.

I learned to drive in my dad’s 1996 Honda Civic. I named her Cyndi, and I loved the hell out of that car (even when her manifold was cracked and she sounded like a bar fly.) His next move was a blue 2000 Accord (which, given my fondness for the Grinch, I named Cyndi Blue-Who). I accompanied him on a warm May afternoon to pick it up at the dealership. He let me drive it off the lot and back to our house, and I drove my date and myself to my junior prom in it later that evening. While all of the other girls were talking about how many bobby-pins and gallons of hairspray they’d used or where their flowers had come from, I was the weirdo trying to tell people about the Accord’s disc brakes.

Like a race car, guys!

So anyway, fast forward to October 2005. I was driving around in a used 1991 Accord that, prior to my college graduation, my sister and I had shared (at least until my dad bought his box o’fun – a “sunset orange pearl” Element, and undoubtedly the boxiest vehicle we ever owned). Its name was Winslow and it smelled like old man pee (according to one friend, and the sentiment just sort of stuck).

I was just about two months into my first real-world job teaching ninth graders how to speak English “real good and stuff” and my crippling student loans hadn’t kicked in just yet. Plus, paying suburban rent every month actually made my checkbook cry. My dad and I had discussed how I wanted a new car and that hopefully I’d be able to afford one soon after I saw what my loans were going to be like. I’d even told him that I kind of liked the look of the upcoming 2006 Civic.

“That light blue color is really sharp,” I’d said, proving my coolness.

So I was sitting outside my friend’s apartment complex one Saturday afternoon that October, talking to Dave Coulier on the phone. (Yes, that Dave Coulier. Cut-it-out!) I’d be happy to tell you how it came to be that I was talking to this man of Full-House-and-Alanis-Morrissette fame on the phone, but leave a comment if you want to know. I should really try to stay on topic.

Dave and I were discussing how I taught ninth grade English and my students called me The Hatchet. He informed me, ever so wisely, that Mary Kate and Ashley had been in ninth grade once. In the midst of this stimulating conversation, my cell phone beeped to inform me that my dad was on the other line.

“Well, Dave, this has been fun, but my dad’s calling me.” Happy trails, Dave. He was a really nice guy.

I answered the phone and my dad just launched right into it.

“Hi, Renee. Hey, I just wanted to let you know – I hope you can afford to make car payments because I just ordered your car for you. It’s an ’06 Civic, that light blue color. It’s going to be manufactured in early December and you’ll have it by Christmas.”

Le sigh. I was excited about my new car for sure. But I have this little problem with anxiety attacks (see: above story about stuffed animals) and so I freaked out for a while about making payments.

It was December 22, 2005 when I parked Winslow in the lot at the Honda dealership by my parents’ house. I thanked him for his years of service and told him to take it easy.

A number of formalities later, Ken, my dad’s Honda salesman of choice, walked me out onto the showroom floor and introduced me to my new car, Beverly. Cue up Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture. (No, seriously, click on that. It’s cued up to exactly what I heard in my head when I saw my beloved Beverly for the first time. Totally normal.)

2006 Civic

Almost seven years later, she still sings “Forever Your Girl” to me. (I have absolutely nothing to do with it.)

Bev and I have had our share of tough times – namely when I had to stand outside a very tall gate at 2 a.m. with $150 in exact change (aka, my whole savings account at the time) and wait for a guy named Donny in an F-350 to retrieve her from the tow company. Or when she just stopped on the highway and made me walk up a hill in heels in mid-June in Virginia.

I’ve never outgrown that sentimental attachment to my car. Sure, I look at other cars. I think about what I might like in the future, but I’m attached to mine, especially now that she’s paid off and actually mine. I know I can’t possibly be the only person who has conversations with my car. I might, however, be the only person who suspects her car is pals with the Transformer Bumblebee. When I’m in my car, I think. I work out problems. I talk to myself. I’m also totally obsessed with music, and Beverly, like Bumblebee, seems to have a knack for playing the perfect song at the perfect time. (Again, it’s not weird.)

Driving, for me, isn’t just a mode of transportation. It’s an enjoyable activity and it helps me clear my head. Sometimes I like finding myself in challenging driving situations. Sometimes I like getting lost and figuring my way out, even if I’ve made the trip more difficult than it really needs to be.

I might not be able to rattle off specs, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still enjoy and appreciate cars. It certainly doesn’t change my attachments to them, strange as they may be. This is my car story. What’s yours?

Renee is waiting for someone to write a song about her life so that she can just quote the lyrics in her author bios. In the mean time, connect with her on Twitter: @writingrenee.

May 302012
 

There is one quote I always remember from my high school U.S. history class: Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” The quote just made sense to me and the reason it has stuck with me after all this time is probably because it can be applied to countless situations. The industrialized world is just beginning to see the effects of depleting fossil fuel supplies, and in many countries common people are struggling to pay for automobile fuel.  It is no coincidence that in many of those same countries, some of the greatest advancements have been made in developing alternative fuel technology. They have struggled, and therefore found the motivation to overcome the hardships and move toward progress. In the United States, it seems like we would much rather sit around and complain about paying $100 to fill up our Hummers than try to do anything to fix the problem. If I had it my way, gas prices would be much, much higher.

Gas Prices Germany

Europeans experience much higher fuel prices

European countries have seen some of the highest prices for petroleum fuels in the world (prepare yourself for some harmless statistical data). On May 21, the national average for a gallon of premium gasoline was $8.62 in Italy, United Kingdom $8.16, Germany $7.91, and France $7.61. The main reason for these lofty prices is due to heavy taxation imposed by their governments. In Germany, for example, the price for a gallon of gas was $3.47 before taxes. Remember, it was $7.91 after. That’s a 128% increase in price because of taxes. The national average of the US was $3.59 before and $3.97 after taxes, a mere 11% increase.

If such a tax as the one in Germany was imposed on Americans, there would certainly be a violent overthrow of the government, pitchforks and torches included, and this is where I make my point. Perhaps the German government has a bit of an eye on the future. By forcing citizens to pay exorbitant prices on fuel, German auto manufacturers are left with no other option but to look for better, more efficient ways of transportation. So that is exactly what they did. Take BMW’s fleet of Hydrogen 7 sedans, which was the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen powered car. Of course, that’s old news, BMW had that project finished six years ago. Now, they have moved on to the beautiful electric plug-in i3 compact and i8 hybrid sports car which have a planned mass-production date of 2013. If gas was $8.00 a gallon in the U.S., there would be plenty of motivation to come up with something better than.. err.. the Chevy Volt.

BMW i8 Concep

The BMW i8 Concept Car

We should all remember what we learned in middle school: fossil fuels are non-renewable. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. So, when the day comes that the last molecule of gasoline is injected into a combustion chamber and burned off, German manufacturers will be years ahead of American manufacturers in the development of new forms of energy technology — and this doesn’t just include Germany, but any other industrialized nation faced with high fuel prices.

So, where does that leave the United States in the race for efficient alternate energy? Definitely not in first. And that really bothers me. I do not like to lose, but it seems some Americans would rather go back to horse-drawn carriages than look a few years into the future.

Being the positive thinker that I am, I feel that all hope is not lost for the country that I love (the SpaceX program has recently erased any doubt). My generation (sen’10rs ftw!) needs to look at the energy crisis just like the cold-war era looked at the space race. The United States secured itself at the top by competing with the Soviets and beating them to the moon. NASA gained priceless technological knowledge by building spacecraft more sophisticated than anything the world had ever seen and that knowledge quickly spread throughout American industry. This was all thanks to the response of our government to not back down in the face of adversity, but to overcome it with as much funding as it took to reach our goal. In order for the United States to establish itself at the top in this generation’s test for technological dominance, it is crucial for American businesses (and most likely the government) to start dedicating whatever resources it takes to producing automobiles truly capable of competing in the international market.

As an engineering student, I have taken this challenge to heart, and I hope others will follow.

Apr 042012
 

When it comes to cars, Americans love their tradition. Ours are some of the oldest carmakers in the world, with the rich histories of OldsmobilePontiacPlymouthAMCEagle and Mercury adding to the culture of their parent companies.

Hm.

Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little; maybe we have killed off more car history in the last 25 years than we have created. The fact remains, though, that America is the source of some of the greatest continuing nameplates in automotive history – the Mustang and Camaro, the Chrysler 300 line, the Corvette, the Charger and Challenger; the list goes on for quite a while.

But it’s not just the American companies that have long-lived, historic nameplates. The Honda Civic has been around the U.S. market for 40 years (it was introduced in ’72 as a ’73 model). The Toyota Corolla, introduced in 1968, is even older. It is a similar story with regards to their larger siblings, the Accord and Camry. These cars have been with us for so long that the names, and the cars themselves, it seems, have become beloved.

Or have they?

Last year, Toyota put out a press release detailing its upcoming 2012 Corolla. Included with the usual self-congratulatory descriptions of the car’s features was the following line: “The Corolla’s design, created with input from styling studios in Turin, Italy, strikes a sporty profile.”

Predictably, that quote was greeted with something bordering on raucous guffaws by the automotive world. The folks at Jalopnik had a particularly tongue-in-cheek reaction that I found thoroughly amusing. All joking aside, though, this does raise an interesting question from a communication perspective: if these cars have come to a point where their makers are reaching this deep to make them appear to be something that they clearly are not, simply to make them interesting, might it be time for a reboot?

2012 and 1973 Civics

Let’s take a moment and reflect on what these cars were and what they have become. The 2012 Honda Civic is roughly the same size as a Honda Accord sold 20 years ago, and more than 10 inches longer and 600 lbs. heavier than a similar Civic of 1988 vintage. Those disparities only grow the farther back we go. Similarly, the Corolla has grown in size and weight to match the Camry of 20-odd years ago – some 600 lbs. heavier and 7 inches longer than the “same” Corolla was in ’88.

So these are pretty clearly not the same cars that they were even two decades ago, let alone at their introduction. Why, then, do their makers continue to cling to the same old maddeningly incremental updates to the same old cars with the same old names? Why do they try to paint them as something they are not in order to make them look interesting?

Year after year the Civic, Corolla, Camry and Accord are all top-10 sellers in the American market. Is it the name that carries the weight? If so, why would automakers like Toyota feel the need to try to paint that name in an unreasonably flattering light?

Honestly, I think that Honda and Toyota don’t really know what they want cars like these to be anymore. In an effort to be everything to everyone, they have become, boring, soulless hulks, lacking the personality that once made their namesakes so interesting and attractive to car buyers.

I think it’s time to reconsider continuing model lines like these; time to toss out the old and tired and see where some new blood and new ideas lead you.

What do you think?

Mar 052012
 

It amazes me sometimes what people believe to be true. Even more so how they will cling to those truths, even in the face of clear facts and reasoned arguments. Indeed, when it comes to talking about cars I often find myself shaking my head at the stubborn dogmas that people hold on to.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in discussions on fuel economy.

With fuel prices and social consciences high, people are looking for any way possible to reduce their own usage of fuel, cut down on our nation’s dependence on oil from other countries, and limit the environmental impact of our cars. These are all both reasonable and noble goals. Unfortunately, many of the steps that are being taken are not really effective ways to reach them.

But don’t tell that to someone who believes he is saving the world.

Nevertheless, I have decided, dear readers, to share with you a few common misconceptions about driving, cars and fuel economy that I have encountered over my years of automotive enthusiasm. You can take my advice or leave it, of course. As long as I have succeeded in getting you thinking, I will be happy. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

In honor of the upcoming new season of Top Gear on BBC America, these people have done a top ten list of the “most bad ass car movies” ever made. The concept sounds cool and the link was posted by the Top Gear Twitter account, so I figured it must be pretty good. Intrigued, I decided to have a look.

What I found was the most appalling, underresearched and worthless list of drivel that I have ever read. And that’s saying something, since I was at one time a subscriber to Super Street magazine. For those of you who couldn’t be bothered to watch the video (and I just can’t recommend that you do), here is what they came up with: Continue reading »

Mar 042012
 

Every gearhead, it seems, has a story to describe the origins of his (or her) obsession. Some grow up around cars, constantly exposed to car talk, tinkering, motorsports, or some other automotive endeavor by some close friend or family member. Others kind of stumble in to it, one day happening to walk past a car show and falling in love with them, or some such. Still others seem to have a predisposition bred in to them from day one.

My own path was slightly less direct than any of those — and way more nerdtastic. Rather than stumbling on to a car show at a young age, I stumbled on to Star Trek.

But let me stop you before the serious eye rolling starts. This isn’t that kind of story. I didn’t give a damn about the highly developed characters, the storylines that mirrored political and social questions of the time or about soap opera-esque sub plots. I didn’t care much for Kirk or Picard, Riker or Spock, Data or Uhura. Actually, I think one of the best lines to come from anything Star Trek related was in a Beavis and Butthead episode where Butthead (as Picard) tells Beavis (as Riker), “Number One, go take a number two.” Continue reading »