Retro look becoming passe for new car designs
Reuters / January 07, 2003
DETROIT - When General Motors unveiled its new Pontiac GTO coupe, the name evoked memories of the muscle sportscar era of the 1960s, but its styling bears little of the retro design that has captivated the automotive industry in recent years.
The Volkswagen New Beetle, the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Mini and the Ford Thunderbird, some of the most widely praised cars recently, all cast a nostalgic spirit. But most of the new cars and trucks that debuted at the Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows over the past week reflect more modern design rather than memories of the past.
"We didn't want retro because retro would be too easy," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said of the new GTO. "We wanted to attract buyers who would consider German and Japanese rear-wheel-drive cars, so we wanted it to look contemporary."
To any skeptics who suggest the new GTO, which goes on sale this year, looks so little like the original because GM rushed it to market, Lutz said the next-generation GTO will also be more modern.
Even Wolfgang Bernhard, COO of Chrysler Group, whose PT Cruiser was the sensation of the Detroit auto show in 1999, says the retro look is dead.
"It was dead before it was born," Bernhard said.
One problem with retro designs, he said, is keeping the look fresh when the car is redesigned, yet maintaining its retro look.
"When you do a face-lift, how are you going to take it to the next stage?" he said, attributing the success of the PT Cruiser to its roomy interior. "A part of PT is design, but what people like about it is its functionality."
While the New Beetle and the PT Cruiser were wildly successful when they were launched a few years ago, the cars now sit longer on dealer lots than most new vehicles, said Tom Libby, an automotive analyst with J.D. Power and Associates.
Chrysler and Volkswagen have tried to keep sales strong by offering new options such as turbo engines, limited edition colors, and convertible tops, which recently debuted on the New Beetle and will come soon on the PT Cruiser.
"The retro thing seems to have subsided," he said. "There's a real challenge to the long-term prosperity of retro vehicles. By definition, their design is locked in."
CARS THAT LOOK FAST
There's nothing retro about the Infiniti Triant, a concept two-door from Nissan Motor Co. that crosses the boundary between sportscar and small sport-utility.
"I wanted to create something different, something with more emotional strength," said designer Taisuke Nakamura, who gave the Triant a sharply angled windshield and sloping roof to emphasize speed. "People can recognize that the car is really fast," he said.
Dan Bonowitz, vice president of corporate planning and logistics with Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s U.S. operations, said U.S. automakers can draw upon designs from the past more than the Japanese automakers can.
"Honda and Toyota probably don't have the same history to draw upon. There is not that kind of history you see so much with the American manufacturers," he said.
"We've always remained somewhat conservative so we don't outdate our designs," Bonowitz said of Honda.
But "There's still a little bit of retro," at the auto show, he added. "Certainly the Mustang is pulling in some cues from the original Mustang."
Some cars, such as the Volkswagen New Beetle, whose unusual rounded hood became a pop culture icon, demand to reflect their past when they are refreshed.
J Mays, who designed the New Beetle and is now the chief designer at Ford Motor Co., said that for the Mustang concept car, he picked up themes from the 1967 model.
Ford might be the lone exception to this year's trend against retro design. One GM designer said the chunky Ford 427 four-door concept car reminded him of the Ford Galaxie sedan of the 1960s.
"I'm not a designer who thinks that history starts with me," Mays said. "The history of a car is much more important than the people designing it."
While some consider Mays the king of retro design, he said he's fought a losing battle against the title. "I've worked on redesigns for 76 vehicles and three are retro. ... I'm more for timeless solutions."
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....