Nice Knowing You, Humanity.

Tesla’s been innovating since day one–beyond the revolutionary performance and efficiency of their plug-in Model S, the company has left no stone unturned on their mission to revolutionize the car driving experience.  The company is pushing the limits of battery charging power and efficiency, is developing next-level cruise control (more aptly described as auto pilot), and, oh by the way, is seeking to revolutionize the car buying experience by letting customers experience its products through company-owned outlets instead of parking them on the endless lots of your local “Bob’s Motors”.

This new innovation, though not on such a grand scale, is the one that places us squarely in the realm of the future.

Pull into your garage, and your friend the giant metal arm will snake its way to the charging portal of your new Model S. Sounds pretty cool! No need to be wary of this!  It definitely won’t eventually learn your habits and personality, process this information and use it to turn on you, eventually stealing and destroying everything you love, and potentially destroying the entire city of New York in the process.  There’s just no way anything like that could happen…

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From The Design Files II: Four Eyes and One Design Success


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When the Nissan Juke was introduced in 2011, the sentiment from the automotive community and the public alike went sort of like “uhh, did they mean to do that?”  Turns out the joke’s on us, as the Juke turned out to be a strong handling, brisk little car that has seen brisk sales of 2-4k units per month since open.  It’s worth noting that the strong sales numbers have most likely been helped by the Juke’s timing more than anything–in 2011, the “subcompact-SUV” wave hadn’t quite taken hold in America, and the Juke was one of the pioneers of the segment that now includes entries from nearly every major automaker–the Buick Encore, Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Kia Soul, and the soon to be introduced and sure to be compelling Mazda CX-3.

Did the Nissan Juke succeed despite its “angry gerbil” styling cues?  That’s a tough question–the front-heavy design and odd shape may not have been the deciding factors for the 100,000+ Juke buyers, but the design did spawn an interesting styling cue: the whole idea of the dual level front headlights.  The large circular lamps serve as the primary source of illumination, while the more traditional headlights sit almost on the roof and provide more character than anything else. Polarizing, yes, but also trend-setting–and successful enough to go virtually unchanged in the new Juke concept that was revealed at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show.  Credit to Nissan’s designers for doubling down on an out-of-the-box idea.

cherokee lightsTo the left is Jeep’s Cherokee, a vehicle that employs a similar headlight design as the Juke, albeit a little toned down.  This look was polarizing as well upon its introduction in 2013, but quickly quited critics after it moved almost 115k units in the first 8 months of sales.

The newest iteration of the design feature won’t be seen in the states but, in my opinion, represents coolest iteration considering the whole package. The Citroen C4 Picasso was developed to be an upscale city car, a subgenre that still has a lot of opportunity for growth in the US–currently only the Mini Cooper, and (loosely) the Acura ILX and BMW 2-Series fill this space.   The “city car” idea is brought to life in the Citroen’s compact size, flexible interior, and the plastic body panels that will repel day-to-day scratches. Well executed style, compact size, a diesel, and a heaping helping of quirkiness?  I’m in.

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From the Design Files: Back from Sabbatical

I apologize. I know I’ve hung my swarms of dedicated readers out to dry in my months/years since my last post.  But hey–silver linings–in my absence, automakers have given me a ton of awesome material–in both the “Wow, they did that!” and the “I can’t believe they did that” varieties.  From the “Wow!” files, I bring you the coolest new trend in automotive design that’s just starting to hit our shores–the concept of the “floating roof.”  It’s exciting as it sounds (seriously).  mini cooper roof

It began in the US with cars like the Mini Cooper and the Ford Flex (which basically went for the 4:3 scale Mini Cooper look to a questionable degree of success) The floating roof gave these cars a distinguishing feature and allowed the automakers to differentiate the roof with contrast colors.  Next, enter the Opel/Vauxhall Adam, Chevrolet’s European Mini Cooper ripoffs that steals the floating roof but adds even more character by draping the contrast color of the roof down the A and C pillars.

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America’s next iterations of this design feature have come mostly from the Japanese.  The newest Nissan Murano and Maxima (top, left to right) as well as the newest Lexus RX (bottom) both sport small creases behind the C pillar, a small but noticeable design detail that gives the cars feelings of motion and fluidity.

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It is interesting to see these carmakers taking their bread-and-butter models and slashing through the sheetmetal.  The results so far to be positive–these cars all went to the barber with an untidy mane and came out with a nice side part. However, like any auto design trend, including the one I’ll detail tomorrow, there is always a point of diminishing returns. I can see the breaking point of this trend coinciding with Chevy’s decision apply it to the the Silverado.

 

A Symmetrical Study in Perpetual Perfection

 

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Sitting above is the Lotus Esprit from the late 90’s.  It’s no secret that this is a beautiful car whose design has stood the test of time.  What is it about the Esprit that makes it timeless, though?  The oversized spoiler, wire rims, and side intake? I’d argue that the car’s beauty comes from its slab-sided body and triangular, balanced shape. Take a rectangle, place a flattened triangle on top, and you’ve designed a beautiful car.  Symmetry has defined beautiful cars of any generation and judging from the designs below, it seems safe to say that simplicity ages very well

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A ’66-ish Lincoln Continental, taking the symmetry theme even further.  The suicide doors are iconic, but the brick shape makes it legendary.  The officially unofficial vehicle of ‘Entourage’ has aged like a fine wine, more than we can say for Johnny Drama.

 

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ImageThe Audi A8 and TT–These next two came from the same era and the same minds; and both designs have remained fundamentally the same since the late 90’s; a testament to each vehicle’s simplicity.  Audi’s designs, especially around Y2K, were strikingly similar to Apple’s.  Need proof?  Take a look at the TT and tell me it’s not the iPod Nano of cars.

 

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This last guy is an absolute stroke of genius.  Meet the Cavalier, a concept car created by AMC in 1965. Taking symmetry to an absolute extreme, this car not only had suicide doors, but front and rear door panels and glass that were all interchangeable.  Every door was literally the same exact stamp of sheet metal. The hood and trunk were identical as well.  AMC was always looking for ways to cut costs and stay competitive, and with the Cavalier, they showed they could do so in a classy, unbelievably clever way.

Slogan Heroes

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 You’d be hard-pressed to think of an industry that relies more heavily on slogans (catchphrases, taglines, whatever you want to call them) than the auto industry.  Lately, it seems like the frequency with which companies change their slogans is indicative of how well the company is doing–Mitsubishi, which has been struggling mightily as of late, doesnt even seem to have one at this point?  Below are some of my best and worst auto slogans, both current and classic:

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Best

Truth in Engineering — Love this slogan by Audi.  Advertising has a way of lying (I guess we should say “misleading”), but good engineering never lets you down.

The Standard of the World — Cadillac has been using this tagline in various forms for for almost its whole life, and for good reason.  It really is the cadillac of slogans

The Ultimate Driving Machine — There’s really nothing like BMW’s long running slogan. Even more pompous and aggressive than Cadillac’s classic tagline, but you can tell it’s more than panache. The “Ultimate Driving Machine” definitely has the chops to back it up.

A Different Kind of Company, a Different Kind of Car– Saturn’s demise was very unceremonious, but its overall customer experience was unheard of when  the company was introduced as GM’s answer to the compact imports of the 1980’s.  Its original slogan reflected this paradigm shift and encouraged curiosity

Built Ford Tough — Doesnt beat around the bush; only takes three words to link the brand to masculinity and reliability.

Drivers Wanted — Short, catchy, to the point has always been VW main advertising theme.

Zoom Zoom — This one word is now inextricably linked to the Mazda brand for all time.  Though it did help to convey the company’s performance aspirations, it mostly served as the base for an extremely catchy jingle

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 Ok, Here’s a quiz: can you name the any of the companies associated with the below slogans? These represent the very worst from the best creative minds.  Bland, completely interchangeable, forgettable, and most have a bad driving-related double entendre or two thrown in for good measure.

Moving Forward

Accelerating the Future

Driven By What’s Inside

New Doors Opened

Find Your Own Road 

Innovation that Excites

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(Infiniti, Toyota, Subaru, Mercury, Saab, Nissan)

“Be A Bad Boy”: Dodge At 100

Dodge uses this new spot to simultaneously celebrate 100 years and preview the new 2015 Challenger. It’s a thing of beauty–the stage setting, the crescendo, and the Challenger’s smoking tires serving as a worthy climax. The ad definitely plays up the “remember your roots” theme that Jeep/Dodge/Chrysler/Ram have been pushing hard in their advertisements. Love it.

The 5 Ugliest Cars of 2014: Faces Only a Mother Could Love

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The Lexus GX 460 has never been a looker by any stretch of the imagination, but it really went off the deep end with its 2014 redesign.  The problem: the car’s new grille makes the car look like a ’99 Honda Civic with an aftermarket body kit–it just doesn’t belong.  Why would Lexus go through all that expense to make the car look vampirish? It’s all in the name of the corporate grille.  The pinched-in grille certainly works for a select few Lexus vehicles (the IS comes to mind), but why did they have to slap it on their 7 passenger SUV in the name of one-size-fits-all equality?

 

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The Toyota 4 Runner is a similar case, but perhaps an even worse offender simply because there was no “corporate grille” involved.  This is a simple case of good old-fashioned botched redesign. First of all, the grille slashes that house  are fog lights are more “gills” than “air scoops”.  Combine this with the bug-eyed headlights that stick out from the body and you have one grumpy looking off-roader.

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A lot of the cars from here on out suffer from a case of misfit proportions.  Though Fiat does well to hide the 500L’s proportions in marketing materials, a look at the car from the side reveals a bar of soap with two tiny wheels poking out of the side. The strange smiling nose combined with the dreadfully undersized wheels are enough to land the 500L on this list.

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Where to start on the Lincoln MKT? (not to be confused, of course, with the MKX, MKS, MKZ, or MKC). It’s kind of amazing this car’s name isn’t the ugliest thing about it.  Combine a bad iteration of the corporate schnoz with a long body, awkward step-up on the rear door, and scary taillights, and you have a car only a mother could love.

 

 

 

nissan cube

It seems a little unfair to include the Nissan Cube on this list simply because it’s goal is to be quirky and functional, not to win any beauty contests.  The asymmetrical c pillar is an interesting design touch, but the rear wheels are placed too far back (in hopes of improving space and ride quality) for the car to look balanced. Also, what’s up with the face.  Quirky doesn’t have to mean ugly.

 

2016 Audi TT: Hello, Old Friend

ImageAs soon as I started writing this, it became painfully apparent that no words are necessary when talking about the original Audi TT.  This car was an absolute design icon from the get-go for so many reasons that are very apparent just through a glance at the above photo.  Rewind quickly to 1998: every sports car had a wedge shape that indicated the car went fast.  The TT rebuffed this notion in a dramatic way.  Extremely symmetric and simplistic in design, yet created with an incredible attention to detail, the TT is the rare vehicle that broke the mold with an original design, yet still looks astonishingly fresh to this day.  It’s the car Apple could have made.  Look inside and the themes continue.  Circular vents were an entirely new concept, and minus a huge touch screen, the center stack looks like it could be on the 2014 model.

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With that, let’s transition to the new, 3rd generation model revealed by Audi just this week. Unsurprisingly, the vehicle keeps the unmistakable TT shape (right down to the shape of the taillights).  There’s a little more fastback in the c-pillar and the face is a lot meaner, but the TT will always be the TT.  The hexagon grille isn’t a huge departure from our current Audis and will be shared with the next generation of Audi’s across the board,  but it does look a little shocking when compared to the sweet face of the original. If that’s pretty much the only thing that’s changed in 16 years, however, I’ll take it.

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“One Ford” One-Offs

Ford’s “One Ford” initiative is an all-encompassing mission to standardize its products and services around the world.  The first product from the One Ford machine was the global 2011 Ford Focus, sold in almost every one of Ford’s markets around the globe.  The Fiesta and Fusion have followed in the meantime, but there are certain cases where complete standardization just doesn’t make sense.  The vehicles outlines below represent a little market specialization on the part of Ford.

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 Ford EcoSport: This little angry-robot-faced guy is indeed part of the One Ford plan, as evidenced by its availibility pretty much everywhere in the world (100+ markets), minus the USA.  I understand their hesitation, as the vehicle is powered by a 1.0L EcoBoost engine (only available here in the Fiesta) and looks like almost nothing else on the road.  The Buick Encore is really the only vehicle available domestically that shares the EcoSport’s shape, but the Encore still seems pretty portly by comparison.

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 The B-Max is Ford’s European specialist, slotting against the Citroen C3 Picasso and the Vauxhall Meriva in many EU markets.  What separates the B-Max from its competitors is its rear sliding door.  When both this rear door and the front are open, the B-MAx creates almost 5 feet of unobstructed access–yes, that means the car actually lacks a b-pillar. It’s a really cool feature and one that is exclusive to the B-Max.

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Above is the Ford Galaxy, not to be confused with the 60’s Galaxie, which was basically the Taurus of the time.  This Galaxy is Euro-specific, basically the Suburban for across the pond.  The shape is basically an elongated C-Max, which itself is a stretched B-Max. No funny door trickery here, though.  The Galaxy is just a big, airy, 7 passenger people hauler.  The car has sold well because of its dimensions and lack of competition from the

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 The bug-eyed thing above is the Ford Figo, which, believe it or not, was new for 2013. The car, for many years, has been Ford’s workhorse in developing countries, providing efficient transportation for not a lot of money.

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 This is a really cool piece of machinery, the Ford Everest, known as the Endeavour in India.  The idea is simple: a solid, capable,body-on-frame SUV for developing countries and areas where you’re not always going to see beautifully paved roads.  The Everest remains truly the only SUV in Ford’s catalogue that truly excels off road.

Mercedes being Mercedes: The 2015 S-class Coupe

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Mercedes absolutely crushed the execution of this 2015 S-class coupe.  The car is, simply put, an absolute stunner and, shockingly, even more beautiful than the concept that spawned it.  A high beltline, long hood, a low greenhouse, and well defined but not intrusive creases add character and frame this as the perfectly proportioned benz.  The front fascia is a bit more streamlined than the sedan on which the car is loosely based, but the real store is in the car’s side profile.  Mercedes cut only 8 inches off the S-class sedan, which gave designers a lot of car to work with–it’s safe to say they didn’t screw it up.

Some nitty gritty details: the “base” car will sport a 4.7L, 449 hp V8, Merc will offer a suspension option that uses a road scanner to help the car “bank” into turns, and this beauty is going to run you north of 120k.  Oh, not enough, you say? Let’s spice things up with the available Swarovski crystals embedded into the turn signals and running lights.  THAT should do nicely.

 

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Below is the “lowly” CL-class which will go to car heaven after the 2014 model year to make room for the new S-class. With Maybach gone, Mercedes is trying to establish its S-class lineup as a worthy successor by upping the vehicles’ level of luxury, technology, and feeling of exclusivity. I’d say they’re on the right path.

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