Do All Modern Sedans Look the Same?
Have you ever walked out of the store to a sea of clones in the parking lot, wondering why your Toyota Camry looks like a Honda Accord, which looks like a Nissan Altima, which looks like an Audi A4? If you remember the good old days of being able to spot the difference between a Chevy and a Ford at a half-mile’s distance, then you’re not alone. The differences that have kept the manufacturers’ designs from looking alike seem to be becoming ever more subtle.
Are the designers out of good ideas? Why aren’t there fins, flares or other frills? Aren’t they interested in making their cars stand out from the crowd? It turns out that the designers of modern vehicles are guided by at least five considerations: profit, safety, reliability, fuel economy and you.
Some design and engineering ideas never make it past the accountants. Lightweight, strong materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, magnesium and aluminum alloy are used sparingly because of their relatively higher costs compared with steel and plastic. Unique body structures are considered in relation to competitive models. Does the class leader have a similar design treatment? Can the car be sold internationally? Each unique idea had better meet business objectives and have an influential champion behind it or it won’t be put into production.
Through focus groups, consumer marketing panels and car-buying surveys, people say they are not as interested in flashiness as they once were. With the exception of a few design variants, they want functionality, reliability and efficiency. The road-going lust of the car culture is waning, as the average age of first-time drivers steadily gets higher, more people take public transportation, and some would-be drivers decide to forgo the costs and hassle of car ownership altogether. For the most part, people want transportation, not necessarily to make a statement. As a result, car designers play it safe and pen a car for the majority rather than a narrow niche. Consider that the milquetoast Honda Civic sold 10 times the units as the funky Hyundai Veloster.
Fuel economy is the largest factor to be considered when designing a modern sedan. To create a more efficient vehicle with high mpg, all new car designs spend considerable time in a wind tunnel. By shaving off fractions of an inch to body panels, designers try to come as close as possible to a perfect aerodynamic profile (the teardrop) in an effort to obtain a sleek coefficient of drag, the measurement that determines how much air passes around a car. Since hardly anybody would buy a car shaped like a teardrop, designers have to compromise. The end result is duplicated by manufacturers around the world.
Manufacturers are reaching an increasingly global vehicle market, so safety standards in this and other countries must be considered. For example, cars bound for Europe need to be designed considering pedestrian impact. Europe requires that the nose of the car must strike a person above and below the waist at the same time to increase the chance that a person will land on the hood as opposed to being swept under the car. This results in chunky bumpers and blunt facades. In an extreme example, Jaguar added a “pedestrian deployable bonnet system” to its XKR in 2007. The device raises the hood several inches when bumper sensors detect that it has struck a pedestrian, allowing for a buffer between the unfortunate pedestrian and the not-so-forgiving engine below.
To test your ability to discern design differences, there are eight random sedans in the picture at the beginning of this article. Which car is which?
Please provide your best guess and visit our Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/ChiltonAutomotive/posts/128052957375438?comment_id=114342&offset=0&total_comments=4
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