Every automotive brand has their own distinctive look, or at least they used to. Get out on the highway and quickly scan the cars around you. For one thing, SUV’s predominate. Be they crossovers, full fledged Sport Utility Vehicles, or the styles in-between, they have pushed out sedans, roadsters, coupes, and most every car type with the exception of pickup trucks, which also abound.
Wait a minute, you say, they all have their individual style and brand identity, don’t they?
Yes, and no. Certainly each brand has their own distinctive grill, right? Hmm. Not so much any longer. Taillight and rear gate treatments may not be exact copies, but the similarities are profound.
Why would that be? Isn’t it a marketing advantage to have your brand retain its own distinctive look?
Maybe. Or perhaps if your brand’s price range makes it more available to a larger segment of the car buying population it might be to your advantage to imitate the looks of a brand that denotes wealth and luxury?
Another factor is the multitude of automotive design regulations that permeate the industry. The EU has its requirements as does the US. Other countries end up adopting by default. Just consider the multitude of US regulations that exist to minimize your chances of death or injury should you and your vehicle exceed the laws of physics. Mandatory crash (from various angles) and roll-over standards. SRS (air bags) technology that permeates the interiors of our vehicles. Cars have to have crumple zones. Areas of the body and unibody that will crumple in order to enhance energy loss before it gets to the cabin area. The location of fuel tanks to prevent the fire balls of the Ford Pinto era. Stability control that is mandatory now. It monitors your drive train for things such as wheelspin and the dangers of the overproduction of torque. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) communication between your tires and the car’s computer(s ) to ensure that you don’t drive on soft tires. Sensors on the front and rear to alert you to the proximity of objects (perhaps even other vehicles) front or rear. And often other monitors to detect traffic that might be hanging in your blind spot, or, since these SUV-types tend to be tall, anything close to the perimeter of your vehicle. Need I mention seat belts, ABS, and on and on?
So what does all this have to do with how your vehicle looks? Everything.
If your image of a modern automotive design department is artists and engineers sitting at drafting tables and sketching boards along with large clay models of the next generation coming to your neighborhood dealership, forget it. It is now the 21st Century, and while we may not have flying cars, the world of computer and design and rendering software pervades the industry. For good reason. Or at least understandable reasons. With the leveraging of computer graphics and software in design there is a short and efficient path to production. Keep in mind that automotive production is no longer a car company producing every piece of the vehicle with the exception of the nuts and bolts. The vast majority of automotive components are produced by vendors and companies that specialize in production for many automotive manufacturers. So it makes sense that common CAD/CAM (computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing) software is used across the industry.
So when a design of a future vehicle is planned there may be some preliminary sketches that are turned into three dimensional computer renderings to evaluate a look, but once the CAD software is loaded with all the mandatory demands of governmental regulations the designs quickly lose any look of brand individuality. Remember that this software also produces what the vendors need to produce parts that will fit as if they were made by a single automotive company. And they do this for most automotive companies out there.
So with automotive companies all pretty much using the same design software and certainly the same parameters necessary to comply with the multitude of governmental mandates why wouldn’t you expect the end products to lack much individuality?
We also see companies such as Toyota and Subaru, Ford and Mazda, Fiat and Mazda, and others colluding on designs that will be marketed as their own brands.
Between 1896 and 1930 there were somewhere around 1800 different brands of car manufacturers in the United States. By the close of the Great Depression there were eight. Today There are three, if you count Chrysler as an American company.
When government mandates for the elimination of internal combustion vehicles come about in the next few years there will be a further decline in the “brand look”, if there is any at all.
Future generations will gape at the kinds of cars that were produced back in the ancient days of the mid-twentieth century, and wonder.
Will they wonder why there is no longer any individual brand look, or will they distain the diversity?