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Looking forward, going backwards
Dan Scanlan bemoans the lack of creativity in today’s car industry.
February 21, 2010 5:30 by Dan Scanlan
All this is not to say that there have not been retro success stories in recent years. The MINI Cooper is the star here. BMW achieved a remarkable feat with this car, capturing significant sales in America, a country to which the original had never been imported officially.
Success was accomplished through clever marketing, where quirky individualism was celebrated rather than downplayed. The marketing campaign even found a way to make fuel efficiency glamorous well before gas prices started to fluctuate wildly in the American market. Perhaps that’s the key to retro success: a core value that is in step with the times. If I were to look to the past for inspiration, it would be to an era of leanness and elegant proportion. It is fortunate that this rules out the era when I became a driver: the 1980s. There are few cars that I would select from that time to be my ride. It was a grim time for styling, even if the mania for aerodynamics had just begun.
I would have to look further back, starting with the 1938 Bugatti Atlantic. The Atlantic’s flair came from a dorsal seam of exterior rivets running the length of its roofline, the telltale sign of its aluminum skin. Here is one aspect generally absent from most modern cars: any sign that form follows function. A vehicle’s computer-envisioned exterior bears little relation to the mechanisms that lay within. Is it too much to ask for a clear sign of an engine somewhere in there?
As we look forward to the next decade, there are optimistic signs for people who care about automotive design: an increasing diversity of looks between brands, and the first real attempts to create family resemblances across models. I say this is hopeful because I believe it is one step in rebuilding brand loyalty, a reason for drivers to keep coming back. Today we are offered more ways than ever to say who we are, from Web sites to Facebook pages. What we drive should be no exception. Automakers who make people say, “I want to drive that,” are sure to be one step closer to success.
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