Unpopular Opinion Alert!
OK, I will go ahead and say it...I LOVE that car manufacturers are starting to take risks with their car designs again.Yes, this even means the new love-it-or-hate-it 2021 BMW 4 Series.
I know some of you who listen to our podcast will call me a hypocrite for saying this because one of my pet peeves with current car design is the ever-enlarging design of the automotive grille, and it is very clear that there is no need for BMW's kidney grille to grow into this pig-snout of a design. However, in the state of design we have been in for the last decade or so where every new car is greeted with "that looks just like X, Y, or Z" it is nice when a design comes through that definitely looks like nothing else on the road.
One of this car's top competitors, the Lexus IS took a completely different design direction. Lexus has already embraced the bold design of the ever-enlarging grille, perhaps they are even the pioneers of this trend. But when it came to redesigning their entry-level performance sedan, they took a more modest approach.
2020 Lexus IS on the left, all-new 2021 Lexus IS on the right
As a business-minded individual, I understand that the blandness of design is to appeal to the largest possible audience and in turn gain the largest sales share of the available market. This has led too many manufacturers to play it safe in design. Afraid of alienating their core customers, manufacturers will go with a slight evolution of a design vs. a full-fledged revolutionary approach (see the also our story on the new 2021 Ford F-150). I say it is OK if design is polarizing, as long as ENOUGH people like it and buy it to justify its existence.
Bold designs create drama and excitement. Bold designs spark interest and intrigue. Bold designs keep you talking, whether good or bad. Perhaps this is not the BEST example to prove my case, but just look at the fact that you can still bring up the Pontiac Aztek in automotive discussion and see the polarizing opinions and discussion 15 YEARS after its demise.
They say any press is good press, and 15 years is a long time to be talking about a car that has been out of production. It even earned a starring role on the hit show Breaking Bad.
Hyundai is perhaps the biggest case study for this current renaissance of design. Just look at the evolution of the Sonata sedan... Here is a sedan that had humble beginnings when it entered the US market back in 1989, but has really upped its design over the last couple of decades. As the brand became more popular, Hyundai became more conservative with their design of their flagship sedan. That is until the 2020 model was unveiled. Below are the last 4 major design changes for the Sonata, and the gold sedan is Hyundai's signal to the world that they are back in the design game, with its wide, fish-like mouth and sweeping curves, it stands out in its segment.
In the case of my personal favorite car, the Chevrolet Camaro, Chevy decided to take a bold swing at the mid-cycle refresh of the exterior design. It was met with almost universal disdain by automotive writers (including myself) as well as the general public. We sales started to reflect the poor design appeal to mass audiences, Chevy was quick to pull a refreshed design the very next model year...hey, they can't ALL be winners.
2019 Camaro on the left, 2020 refreshed Camaro on the right.
Chevy had another big revolution in design when it came to their halo car, the Corvette. Since its inception in 1953, the Corvette was a front-engine rear-drive sports car. Increased competition and the annoying fact of physics had pushed designers and engineers on the Corvette team to do all they could with that formula, and in 2020 they introduced the first-ever Corvette with the engine BEHIND the driver. The Corvette faithful are a picky bunch, and changing "tradition" was a slow process that started when the sixth generation dropped the pop-up headlights that had become a signature of the 'Vette. The seventh generation saw the departure of the round taillights, which paved the way for the most massive of changes of the engine to the middle. At firts glance, the designers did their best to keep the design true to the generation before, even while fundamentally reshaping and re-purposing the vehicle. The end result was a car that was undeniably a Corvette, while still paving the way to a brave new future.
Sometimes you just have to take a risk. Sometimes you have to show that you are willing to be different and design something that will truly stand out in the crowd. Not everyone is going to like every design, but I think it is time design-by-committee comes to an end.
What are your thoughts on car design? Do you prefer automakers to take a chance on creating a head-turner, or would you prefer you car to blend in to the crowd? Let us know by creating an account and sounding off below, or sharing with us on social media.
As for me, I dare designers to get even more bold!