By Reena Jana
Posting in Cities
Designers at American automakers are increasingly paying attention to global aesthetic trends. Has the time come to lure U.S. drivers used to big vehicles toward tinier, more stylish ones?
For Americans used to driving on sprawling freeways in hulking SUVs, seeing zippy petite autos slip through skinny side streets in old European cities can be a charming and curious sight. And the experience of navigating vehicles through, say, an expansive U.S. suburb is, without a doubt, very different from swerving on cobblestones between centuries-old structures in an E.U. metropolis. Scale aside, do Americans and Europeans simply have different auto-design tastes? Or is our era of eco-consciousness and increasingly urban lifestyles about the change that?
As the Paris Motor Show, a barometer of the car-design zeitgeist, approaches later this month, it's clear that makers of small autos in Europe are revving up their style quotient. And some observers believe automakers will soon bet that new generations of American drivers will gravitate toward sexy, sporty small cars, too. (I wonder if the fact that Millenials will not remember the gas-guzzling, boat-like sedans and station wagons that some of us grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s might also affect their choices.) In the design-focused piece "Small Cars are Changing; Will They Fit in the U.S.?" the New York Times writer Phil Patton looks at the trend of more colorful, more style-conscious, and more city-friendly compact offerings to come. And some that are already on the market.
"...gone are the low-price gray boxes and blobs that characterized the design of many cheap small cars of the past. Following the retro path of Mini or Fiat, other small cars offer more color choices. Body-color paint extends inside to doors and dashboards now, and the hues are more daring.
Do you want pink or mocha latte? The Chevrolet Spark and Fiat 500 have them. And smaller cars have more charm...Small cars are changing, the better to stimulate desire among young drivers. Some are promoted as city cars, as automakers study population trends and take aim at urban buyers."
In other words, cars are now getting cooler as they get smaller. Reading this made me think that such auto design developments echo trends in our other consumer technologies: smartphones get sleeker and tablets get slimmer as clunky relics like landlines and PCs begin to fade.
Patton predicts that American auto designers will pay attention to small-car trends set to be showcased in Paris in late September. These include
- "Floating roofs," a design treatment in which a car's top is lighter than the rest of the auto, suggesting it's suspended in air, hovering like a cloud -- this will be seen in Audi's new A1 model.
- Sculptural, voluptuous small-car bodies. Rounded, feminine silhouettes in the new Renault Clio and the new 2013 Opel Adam, which will make its debut at the Paris Motor Show and is pictured above, are meant to seduce potential buyers. (Although they won't be available in the U.S..)
- Lots and lots of aesthetic options. Car makers are likely to offer large palettes of colors and wide choices of materials for small cars that will lead to "a million permutations" (that figure is used figuratively, I safely suspect! Wink, wink.)
Although Patton can't yet connect the dots between these forthcoming Paris Motor Show trends and any U.S. cars definitely set to hit the market in 2013, he does report on a larger design trend that backs up his points. He ends his piece by discussing how auto design strategy and research at American car companies is becoming more and more global. Design leaders at both Ford and General Motors are quoted as saying that they're paying attention to small-car preferences among young people in Europe, Asia, and the United States, collectively, and finding common tastes--and then, of course, playing to them.
Sep 11, 2012
I guess that small cars are looking more stylish and cool as compare to big size models and designs, and I think it will definitely seduce US citizens. http://www.tyre-shopper.co.uk/branches/maidstone
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In the 1960's practically all Americans drove large cars (very large by today's standards). Trucks were few, and SUv's were rare. In the 1970's there was a mideast war. We ended up having our oil embargoed. The price of gas went from$0.25 per gallon to over $1 per gallon. People started buying tiny imports. In the 1980's, under the superb fed guidance of Paul Volcker, the price of gasoline dropped. Americans developed an appetite for trucks and what is now called the SUV. The demand for gasoline increased and the price stayed low. The 1990's saw us back to our old excesses. The number one sellers were gas guzzling SUV's and pickup trucks. A tipping point was reached around 2001. The early 2000's saw gas prices quadruple, from $1 to $4 per gallon. Now there are other options besides small cars. There are 25 mpg SUV's. There are hybrids. There is much greater efficiency overall. A normal price correction started in late 2008. Gasoline briefly reached a nadir of $1.40 per gallon until some ill advised activity by the federal reserve bank to devalue the dollar reversed the trend. Mr Bernanke drove the prce of gasoline back up. Hence we will see a trend towards greater fuel efficiency in vehicles. Unfortunately people cannot afford to keep larger, safer, more comfortable automobiles again. So the pendulum shifts. Inflation is the worst tax of all. It is anti-regressive in that it disproportionately affects the poor. A rich person could care less if gas is $4 per gallon. A person making minimum wage can not afford it. There is no meaningful public transit infrastructure here either. Great job, Bernanke. Food and fuel are vital and should be included in the inflation formula. Get your head out of the sand and stop pandering to the wall street and banking crooks.
I refuse to drive something that does not have adequate interior room. That is the main reason I drive a full sized pickup truck. My wife's car (2007 Ford 500) was bought for that very reason as well, I could sit in the back seat comfortably! Whereas a model from a different manufacturer had no room in the back seat at all, even for someone much shorter than me. Her car is now at more than 75000 miles and I am retiring soon, so we have discussed replacing it in the next four years. A zippy little car might be nice for her, but it should be for both of us, and any future grandkid transportation. Ford no longer even makes a minivan. As far as I am concerned that was a mistake, I don't plan on buying an SUV just to haul a bunch of people. The gas mileage on my P/U is bad enough without getting two vehicles with bad MPG's. Bring back the station wagons, they were great, had lots of room, seats laid down to accomodate whatever you wanted to haul. I had one in the mid 70's and I could even sleep in it, stretched out in the back. I don't really care about style as much as functionality, then maybe we will talk style. I have preferences on pickups, but not much. It seems like most cars on the road today look alike anyway where is the styling? It is all aerodynamics which does away with uniqueness. Bring back the fins of the 60's. My first car was a 1959 Chevrolet Impala, with the big fins that made a V on the trunk, the 1960 separated the V to more of a spread out U. Who can afford a Mercedes? I don't want to spend that kind of money on an automobile. My pickup cost me less than $20K double or triple that for a Benz, way too much for a vehicle that moves you from point A to point B. Safety is a big concern in the smaller cars.
To drive a small car not only must it be safe but must have a smooth ride. Here in the US we are used to hitting the freeways, driving long distance. The last time I drove from Houston to SA in a Ford Focus was the last time! Also, rear seats must be able to fold down flat and/or be completely removable. Cheaper, too!
To drive on USA streets the little car better be able to withstand a crash with a truck without looking like a beer can, and it has got to have high capacity air conditioning due to the hot and humid weather in the south (that machinery takes up space, so make room for it!). I use to drive a small car but after being hit by a caddilac, I will not do it again. But we do, and will always, have some pickup trucks in the USA. There is too much a hazard to drive small no matter how posh the small car is. I am 100% willing to accept less horsepower, but not reduce my own safety.
The Adam is a lot better looking than the Chevrolet Spark and Sonic! I suppose if GM were to sell it in the States it would have to be a Buick to command a premium price. The problem with nice sub-compact cars is that there is very little difference in price between them and their compact siblings. While the base price of the Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus are $3000 apart, what you see on the dealer lots (based on online searches I've done) seem generally priced much closer. You'd have to really want the smaller car instead, or if price is the biggest issue, really search for a base model.
Again Small/Smaller Euro cars are often good at this, as freeway speed in Europe are generally higher. 70mph UK, up to 80-90mph on some German autobahn's. As mentioned above, why does anyone really think road/geography/vehicles is the US and Canada is really any different from Europe. Smaller cars/engines/diesel/efficiency in Europe are common - no reason why the benefits can;t apply to the US too.
Wondering why US streets are any different from streets in London, Paris, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur ?? One of the safest cars in crash testing is the tiny Mercedes Smart Car, which has a rigid steel safety cell that far exceeds the abilities of larger cars like Volvo/BMW. It's not the size of the car, it's the design of the passenger cabin. Most small cars in Europe have developed over the years to become 5* EuroNCAP in testing for safety - Honda Fit (known as the Honda Jazz in Europe) is a good example. The larger Ford Focus is another. You do not reduce your safety in a smaller car. Gas Mileage > 50mpg.
Most Europeans drive these micro-cars not so much because they are eco-conscious, or find them as safe or comfortable. They do so because most older European cities were laid out centuries before automobiles were conceived, and simply are not navigable in anything larger than an ox cart. The farther you get away from large city centers, the larger the cars you see on the highway get. Also, diesel usage is far more common in passenger cars and the air quality in most major European cities is atrocious compared to America. The primary cause is the high fuel taxes that make mandating the emission controls that add weight and affect mileage that the US does politically impossible.
I would suggest you go right to the source for safety in passenger vehicles in america. That source is the IIHS (insurance institute for highway safety). The institute keeps a database of the crash survivability of all vehicles insured in the US. There is a clear trend, and that is the weight of the vehicle varies in proportion to crash survivability. In other words, do not count on that finely made MB cabin to save you in a head on collision with an american pickup or Lincoln town car. It won't.