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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
These are dark days for the automotive industry. The events of the past year have resulted in the elimination of storied brands around the world, and the restructuring of ownership, labor, debtors, and creditors. It’s been a long time coming.
One sign was the American industry’s fascination with retro styling and the resuscitation of old models. The past decade has seen a raft of vehicles harking back to earlier eras.
The muscle car resurgence was perhaps the trend’s boldest sign, with each of the formerly Big Three making their nostalgic bids with the Mustang, Charger, and Camaro respectively.
The saddest part of this exercise was its lack of imagination: These retro versions were about the most exciting things the companies had going. The best that they could do was to look backwards. This not to indict the cars themselves, which certainly have their appeal. The danger for the industry was the lack of inspiration. After it had revived the Charger, Chrysler moved on to the Dodge Challenger, a slightly less than iconic also-ran in the Pony Car era. What would have come next, a new Dodge Dart Swinger?
What was most dangerous about the trend was that it trained the buying public to look backward as well, and not associate Detroit with innovation and leadership. I believe that Ford and GM now have a good chance of being inventive in the coming years. Whether it succeeds or fails, the Chevy Volt will at least show that GM is willing to take some chances, particularly with Bob Lutz saying that he believes the Volt to be the most exciting project of his decades-long involvement in the auto industry.
Ford’s attempts to reposition itself, which began a few years ago, are now bearing fruit with the raft of new models set to sell well as the economy recovers. As for Chrysler, devoid of new models, their fate rests solely on their ability to adapt existing Fiats for the American market. The company will be hoping the Jeep name can sustain them.
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