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.

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?