Car Makers Better Buckle Up or Crash and Burn
There are several reasons why the auto industry has hit the brakes. But while watching them swerve over the asphalt and head toward a cliff, I don't hear any chatter about the design of American cars and why these vehicles went into a spin. Even though Toyota is light years ahead in the sales department of cars nobody is racing over to their lots saying, "oh my god, look at that hot Camery!” Let's face it, Toyota is not producing any beauties either and I don’t care how many miles the hybrid Prius gets, it’s still the ugliest thing on four rims! But in function, beauty and cost, the three prong triangle of good design, at least Toyota got two out of the three right ,which made them the leaders today. The bottom line is, we dropped the ball on design. Good design is much more than the outward look of a car. It is the seamless blend of style, function and price. If Americans still had the juice to produce sweet cars like its first Corvette or the convertible Mustang or even the bubble fat lines of the 57 Chevy, they'd still be in the game. But, creating cool design is a very elusive thing. Americans had the lion's share but never kept their eye on the center divide. When Toyota first got into the business, they created boxy, economy cars that were lean on looks but great on your wallet and ran like the Energizer bunny. These slack, no-frills vehicles got you from point A to B. And by using the pull system (which they took from Piggly Wiggly stores) Toyota only built when orders came in, eliminating the massive waste we see on American lots today, hundreds of cars sound asleep like wet shells on the beach, aching for someone to pick them up. Instead of sizing up the competition, the American auto industry became arrogant with their edge. They produced bigger and bigger cars even while gas prices soared. They focused on suburbans and trucks and ignored the sedan and designed square, non-descript cars that were about as cool as a Kenmore frig with a price tag that could melt down Alaska. And to make matters worse, they were horrible maintenance freaks, costing consumers hundreds of dollars in repairs. Who designed these sloppy pieces of bad functioning crap? Who sat down and drew the lines on these drab, four-wheeled scabs? We ought to be ashamed. We created this technology first! We should be light years ahead of the opposition by now! We should have yanked the reigns back like Steven Jobs did with the Mac. We should have fought back, got in the garage, ripped the paper and started from scratch. If the big three listened to designers instead of the slack jaws on their corporate boards, they would have kept their eyes on the three-prong components of good design. And now that Ford, Chrysler and GM are heading for the cliff, they can either reinvent the wheel or let these gas guzzlers crash. But if they want to win they better buckle up, hire great designers and press the gas. They better create fuel efficient, cost effective cars with sleek gorgeous lines and then maybe, just maybe we’ll begin our love affair again and reign on the highway once more.
Pam Ward, author/designer
Ward graphic design
Faculty, ART CENTER COLLEGE OF DESIGN
Author, WANT SOME GET SOME and BAD GIRLS BURN SLOW