Why Do They All Look The Same?

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Government homogenizes everything it touches. It makes things uniform, drains the color, randomness and difference out of life.

Government is the reason why cars increasingly look . . . homogenized. The basic shape is becoming uniform – the inevitable end result of having to comply with government edicts specifying that a car must successfully withstand being hit from the side, behind and at various angles; this has imposed a design template on all cars, regardless of brand or model. It is why all brands and models increasingly look the same except for increasingly bizarre grille and headlight shapes – which are a kind of desperate last salvo of expression still possible only because the government hasn’t yet got around to decreeing how grilles and headlights should be shaped.

Which will probably happen when it occurs to a government bureaucrat that certain grille shapes threaten to poke pedestrians – and we can’t have that.

The same homogeneity is found inside new cars – in all cars made since the late ‘90s, when the government decreed that all cars must have air bags stuffed into their steering wheels. It is why all steering wheels now look the same. Before the government decreed that all new cars must have air bags, steering wheel designs varied – often wildly. They were the centerpiece of interior design and even defined the car.

Today, they are just steering wheels.

The same blob in the center – where the air bag is. The different shapes of the past are no longer feasible and so there is one shape – generic, homogenous. With a different badge in the center.

It is no wonder that most kids no longer car about cars. It is like trying to summon interest in milk jugs.

“Safety” itself was once a different selling point – rather than the same selling point, as it has become today. Some cars sold on the basis of other attributes, such as their flamboyant styling –  or because they offered features which appealed to people but which have since been outlawed by regulatory fatwa such as swiveling or rear (or sideways) facing seats – or roofs with removable glass panels (T-tops).

Those pre-fatwa cars weren’t “unsafe,” either. The presence or absence of air bags or swivel seats or T-tops does not increase or decrease the odds of a crash happening.

A 1970 VW Beetle is perfectly safe to drive.

What is meant by “safety in the regulatory fatwa sense is a vehicle’s ability to withstand impact forces if there is a crash. It is a distinction with an important difference. If no crash happens,  a 1970 Beetle is just as safe to drive as a 2018 Beetle – only the old Beetle has more character because it is different. The new Beetle merely looks vaguely like the old one but underneath its skin, it’s not much different from any other front-drive, front-engined compact economy car.

Everything that made the old Beetle a Beetle is absent from the new Beetle.

And the new, homogenous Beetle is probably still not as “safe” – as defined by how well it protects occupants from impact forces in the event of a crash – as a full-sized, pre-safety fatwa American sedan of the early ‘70s, which was inherently safer by dint of being full-sized. And because it had heavy steel bumpers instead of plasticized front ends with paper-thin metal for the fenders and hoods.

But full-sized sedans have been fatwa’d out of existence (via fuel efficiency fatwas) except as very expensive (and very low production) cars for the very rich. The only ones that qualify as full-size today – by yesterday’s pre-fatwa standards of length and weight – are models like the S-Class Mercedes and BMW 7 Series, both of them $100,000 cars.

Mass-market sedans are all small by the standards of the pre-fatwa era. A full-size sedan in 1970 meant a car like the Buick Electra 225. The number denoted its length. Two hundred and twenty-five inches – almost 19 feet from bumper to bumper (not rubberized “fascias” to fascia,” as today). The largest car GM sells today that isn’t an ultra-luxury car is the Chevy Impala.

It is 201.3 inches long overall – some two feet shorter than a 225 Buick.

It also does not seat six, as the Buick did – nor does it have a trunk that can accommodate three (as the Buick did). Even an S-Class Mercedes is modestly sized by pre-fatwa standards. It is only 206.5 inches long – and its trunk just 16.3 cubic feet.

Today’s sedans may be “safer” as per compliance with federal fatwas – but they are too small for today’s families – even the “full-sized” ones. 

And that is why crossovers have become the homogenous vehicle of choice nowadays.

A crossover is a mutation of design resulting from all the unnatural incentives imposed on car design (and car buyers) by the government. The government outlawed (not directly, but effectively – via the regulatory fatwas) big sedans with lots of space but people wanted them anyhow and so they bought SUVs, which were the same things as big sedans except jacked-up and with 4WD and an even heartier appetite for fuel – because they were even heavier and much less aerodynamic than the extincted-by-fatwa large sedans which they replaced.

But that created a new problem for the car companies. Truck-based SUVs had previously been relatively low-production specialty vehicles generally bought by people who needed the rugged 4×4 (and towing) capability they offered. But when they became mass-market replacements (end-runs, really) for the large sedans which used to be mass-market, their MPG numbers (low) dragged down the  manufacturer’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers – and that triggered fines for not being sufficiently efficient.

Enter the crossover – a jacked-up car that looks like an SUV but slightly less heavy and somewhat (in theory) more “efficient” but not that much in fact. They are also arguably – demonstrably – less saaaaaaaaaaaaaafe than the big sedans most families used to have parked in their garages in the pre-fatwa days because of usually terrible visibility plus a tendency toward top-heaviness on account of a high center of gravity. This is compensated for by elaborate electronic countermeasures and – of course – a profusion of air bags.

And they all look just the same . . .

. . .

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53 COMMENTS

    • Hi Escher!

      Gawd, I loathe that term… “consumer.” It conjures images of slopping hogs, or the “human centipede,” if you savvy that. I think the term was put into service by TPTB for just that reason – to degrade the status of the customer, of the buyer.

      Language matters. The Left knows this best.

  1. I just had to give up my 89 Toyota Corolla, which had an engine willing to go another 100,000, but the body just couldn’t make it. : ( Sad day. And finding another car was a task. I will miss being able to spot that baby in any parking lot in a heartbeat, as the one I just got looks a lot like all the others, Just as you’ve described in your article, although I still tried to keep it older. So, I bring home a “new” used 2002 Honda Accord. I take the book out of the glove box, wanting to learn it, and to try out the cd player. (I’m a girl, what can I say?) I put one of the four keys I received, into the ignition and turn it. Nothin. I try to take the key out. Nothin. I look at the key closer, and see that it says “Acura” on it. I check my book. It warns that if the wrong key is placed into the ignition, it immobilizes the car. And the key does not release itself. “Safety features.” Are you friggin kidding me? How about if I use the wrong key and it just doesn’t turn, the way it was in the old days? UNBEIEVABLE. Made me wish I would have sunk my money into just getting a new body for the Toy.

    • Hi Pam,

      Sorry to hear about your ’89 – I know the pain of having to say goodbye to a car you really like and would have preferred to keep! And – ditto on the peremptoriness of new cars. They way they second guess and try to nudge you to do what they – their designers – think you should, without giving you the freedom to choose for yourself. The way they assume you’re an idiot child in need of parenting…

      One of the reasons I love my Orange Barchetta – the ’76 Pontiac – is that it does nothing unless I direct the action.

      • Thank you, Eric. You get it. : ) The next part of the assuming I’m an idiot child in need of parenting, is that the designers ENABLE that very thing to happen!

        I would hang on to that 76 Pontiac till the very end. There is nothing more freeing than directing action. Probably why Ludwig Von Mises called his thesis (I’m a poet!) “Human Action.” Is there anything more meaningful in living than that? That’s what we’re here for, for God’s sake.

        • Thanks, Pam – I try!

          Dunno whether you remember, but when the camel’s nose of this stuff began to stick his nose under the tent back in the ’70s, many people openly mocked it. The seat belt buzzer/interlock was the first. People hate it. Then there was the “your door is ajar” recording, which appeared (if I recall correctly) in the early ’80s (I think Nissan was to blame).

          Ridiculous – back then.

          But instead of going away it got worse – and here we are. The typical new car now has multiple claxons (buckle up for saaaaaaafety!) as well as actively pre-emptive technology that thwarts human action (e.g., traction control that cannot be turned off, automated braking, lane keep “assist,” etc.) as well as various nudging technology, such as automatically turning down the radio volume whenever the car is put in reverse… it all makes my teeth ache!

  2. Haha! I saw a new model VW sport wagon roll by the shop today. It looked like a dead-ringer for a Volvo 850 wagon, even more than the Volvo V-70 series! The big flat square rear gate was as vertical as a plumb-bob!
    I guess VW figures everyone has forgotten what cars from the 1980’s looked like, so they are recycling one, and not even their own, lol!

    • Hi Doug,

      Yup – even the (few) large ones share this characteristic. The amount of car after the front and rear axle centerlines is much less than it once was. Which is odd, come to think of it, given how well long hoods and trunks could perform as impact-resistance devices…

  3. I’m still driving a 1995 limited edition Toyota 4 runner. I don’t have airbags or any of the other fancy stuff. it’s been a great car and reliable. it also has just over 113,000 miles on it. I hope to keep this car to death do us part, from old age!

  4. My parents got Olds 88s and we could fit a couple families of 4 into it for a Saturday afternoon ride to the lake or somewhere to hike. It was like your living room on wheels. Nowadays, just getting in and out of the door makes a person feel really old, everything is so tight.

  5. I think it was John Stossel who once complained about this epidemic of identical-looking cars, and he added: “When a government bureaucrat designs a car, this is what you get,” as he pointed to the legendary (or notorious) East German Trabant.

    It’s good to know that things haven’t changed much. He was just as right as you. The only difference is the name, along with the headlights and grille design. But that’s just a mask, designed to cover the apparent fact that there are more manufacturers than just one.

    They are just stuck with the same rule-making regime. And it sucks.

  6. I would argue that periods of sameness and differentiation exist. We are in a period of sameness, but they have existed before. I follow a website called the old motor and they post a lot of photos of parking lots and such from the early 50s on back. I usually can’t tell one car from another. When it gets to the 1960s I can start to tell them apart. I would argue that the greatest period of the differentiation was the 1960s. In the 70s and 80s the sameness started creeping back in until we get to the present.

    Did regulatory pressures kill off a lot of differentiation? Certainly. But if auto makers really wanted to differentiate through car styling instead of copying trends they could. It would take effort and being bold or desperate. Remember the original Ford Taurus was a huge departure styling wise but not long the entire industry had followed along. And of those old parking lot photos it’s the models that were departures from the norm that I can spot.

  7. If I compare pictures of cars from 1932 or 1954, I see the same sameness as what you see now. There’s government interference in car design for sure, but I think there’s more to it.

    As for the “Little Boxes” analogy, I learned in the military, where your whole life is the epitome of sameness, that if you want to stand out as an individual you have to actually be one. The trick of merely looking like an individual is not an option.

    Back to cars. Based on a small sedan that pretty much looks like all the other small sedans out there, I’ve never mistaken a WRX for anything else. Wonder how many fewer they’d sell if they had given it a unique design.

    Cars, houses, clothing, education…….even folk singers. In a given era they will have a sameness.

    • Absolutely right. Google some pictures, 67 Ford Galaxy vs 67 Chevy Impala. Then try 78 Impala vs 78 Ford Galaxy. Or maybe late 70’s 4 door Nova vs Volare vs Granada. 88,89,90 Crown Vic, compared to same era Chevy Impala. 93 or so Crown Vic vs Chevy Impala. How many average people could tell the difference between a 1982ish Chrysler Imperial, Cadillac Seville, or Lincoln Versailles? It has ever been thus. The car companies have always mirrored each other, and almost every vehicle of a certain era has had the same basic shape and profile of the competition

  8. I know what you mean exactly. Having recently purchased a 2006 VW Jetta TDI (the newest model car I own), I found the visibility is worse than my 2005 Prius. Of course, 2006 is the year that cars got the big butts and humongous sides. I have no doubt, this design will increase accidents due to poor visibility. I can’t even see a 4′ tall farm gate out the rear windshield over its big butt. I also have commented repeatedly to everyone I know how ugly and uniform all cars from 2006 on are.

    Is some of the problem consumer preference though as well? Notice how except for red and white, all cars come in various shades of asphalt color now. You rarely see yellow, green, or even blue, not to mention pink, purple, etc.

    • Hondas with their small engines and low hood lines were legendary for their excellent outward visibility. Like driving a jet fighter I suppose. The Honda Prelude the Acura Integra the Honda Civic and the Acura NSX all featured amazing visibility which really made a great driving experience. All gone now as all cars morph into a federal mandated blob as this article states.

  9. The Buick Deuce-and-a-quarter. The neighbors had one when I was growing up. Their whole family would ride it to church, and then to the cafeteria afterwards. Because there was room for a family of four and the grandparents.

    • My father had a ’68 Buick Electra with a 430 ci big block engine, dark brown paint, and a white vinyl roof. I drove it occasionally once I became old enough. It had great power but would not spin tires off of the line. Oh, I am sure that I could have power-braked it, but I never went that far while driving anyone else’s car, and it was too nice of a big car to treat that way. It lacked stabilizer bars and didn’t corner very well with that long trunk extending way past the rear axle.

    • My friend’s dad had several Buicks. The 225 had air shocks in the back. I remember him pumping them up with a bicycle tire pump then picking up a load of stone or something from the garden center. Several large bags in the trunk, no problem!

  10. My wife of 52 years continues to be amazed at my easy ability to identify the make and the year of every older (1945-1975) vehicle at antique auto shows or in the movies. Today that skill is gone, for obvious reasons.

    • Newer car headrests aren’t for resting your head. They usually sit too far back to do that. They are to keep your head/skull from whipping too far back in a collision, which can cause lethal recursive brain injury. That occurs when your brain floating in fluid in your skull is violently bounced inside due to G forces if your head is whipped too rapidly back and forth. The brain can be bruised with internal bleeding. swelling, etc.
      If your headrests actually pokes your head in the back it is too far forward. It isn’t really a headrest (not usable for say, sleeping in your seat) but a brain momentum-counter momentum restraint device.
      Yes, a much reviled “safety device” the old guys here bad mouth, like Eric. But I suspect some of these codgers are alive today because of those. There are psychos and clueless morons on the roads trying to kill you after all. Headrests are designed to keep them from turning your brain into jelly when they attack you.

      • “Yes, a much reviled “safety device” the old guys here bad mouth, like Eric.”

        Show where eric has reviled “headrests” or STFU.Here’s a little cheat sheet for you, mugsy: eric owns this site. He writes articles that his supporters like to read. He allows comments even by non-supporters and detractors like you.

        I don’t see you offering anything much on the way of interesting comments. For all the difference it would make, eric could shadowban your comments and they wouldn’t be missed. You’re free to go post elsewhere if you like. In fact, you’d be doing everyone here a courtesy if you did.

        • This reply is way late of course. Why do you lash out at me for my comment? I was referring to the general tone of Eric’s attack on all safety equipment, not just headrests. So far as I know he hasn’t signaled those out.
          My point was that “headrests” are not for resting your head, but to keep your brain from smashing inside your skull in a violent collision. Not a crazy idea is it?
          Nor does Eric need you for his pit bull. I appreciate his hard work and agree with most of his commentary. Eric doesn’t need you to be his censor. I wasn’t rude or nasty. If we are all supposed to just be his echo chamber here what is the point of commenting?
          My point, which you didn’t bother to address, is that we have to share the roads with dangerous drivers, like it or not. Psychos, drunk, distracted, drugged or just lazy, sleepy or stupid. So being safe is a necessity. I don’t like mandatory govt rules but headrests are not a big deal. I too am an “old guy” but too many of us on comment sites just vent and gripe.
          In the case of headrests I’ll voluntarily keep mine. And Ed, I’m sure Eric can defend his own ideas and even tolerate differing views. You might try that.

          • Yeah, Mugsy, and you might try kissing my ass. There’s just something about the shit you write that pisses me off. Get used to it.

          • Hi Muggles,

            As with air bags and other such, it’s not the headrests as such I take issue with. I take issue with them being mandated – in part because I object in principle to anything of this sort being mandated because it is no one else’s legitimate business whether there are air bags and so on in my car (unless you take the position that we are either the property of other people or their idiot children, regardless of our age) and so no legitimate business of the government’s – the government being nothing more than other people.

            The other reason I object is because mandates are by definition one-size-fits-all. But all of us are very different. We are not ants. Mandates do not allow for individual variance and they eliminate different options.

            Wouldn’t it be neat if you could choose between say sport buckets with headrests and a three-across low-backed bench seat?

            I miss that – and cannot see any legitimate reason for denying supposedly “free” people the right to make such choices rather than being forced to accept the choices made by other people on their behalf but without their consent and contrary to their own wishes.

      • Well the headrest still suck. Ford is really bad with them. Almost makes the car undrivable its so annoying. I drove a mustang convertible a few years ago and it just ruined the driving experience. Mercedes are bad with them. Heres an idea – why not make an adjustable one. I’ll risk whiplash and you can drive with yours rammed against your head.

    • Mark, I have had cars with good headrests and hated to see them go. Remember the ones that raised up and down and moved forward and backward? I loved a good headrest….sorta like Captain’s chair seats, esp. bucket style. All it takes is a goddamn bureaucrat to fuck up the best, most simple things in life.

      I was just reading about an 80 year old woman accosted by a bitch with a badge who barged in and took her hemp because her medical card was expired, took this woman to jail and tortured her with air too cold all night. Damn, do I ever feel better knowing that woman was in jail as opposed to being in her own home…..smoking some reefer. Every time somebody lights up a splif I feel as if I’m being violated. You can imagine how much misery I’m in every second of every day. Now if they’d just let up on truck drivers and THC in your system………

  11. This is the future for people.

    Already happening in that every kid has the same dental college trained dentists applying the same braces, so every kid’s teeth look exactly like every other kid. Can you imagine a Freddy Mercury growing up today? Or accents that are disappearing, everybody talking the same and sounding the same. As more genetic science gets applied to human reproduction, this trend will increase.

    The future is a moiling, faceless, indistinguishable polyglot blob of humanity, all consuming their way to government approved happiness on a never ending hamster wheel of debt and payments and rents, never truly owning anything, never truly in control of anything in their lives or around them; pointless, fruitless, hopeless and under 24/7 surveillance.

  12. I always thought the New Beetle was designed by Pixar. The old Beetle’s design was sheer perfection. Thanks, Uncle.

    It’s impossible to find these flimsy, ugly appliances truly desirable. None of them have the makings of a classic. With the way things are going, those ’70s land yachts we deemed worthless will be worth a lot years from now. At least they have character and are simple to repair.

  13. Another feature I miss is glass sealed-beam headlamps (which my 1997 Camaro has). They never develop “cataracts” even when sitting in the bright sun all the time. I wish that manufacturers would at least use glass on the exterior of composite headlamps so that they wouldn’t develop these cataracts from UV light.

  14. Wait, T-tops are now considered unsafe? Sad. That’s one of the features I looked for (and got) when I bought my 4th-generation Camaro back in 2002.

  15. I don’t what it has to do with safety, so I wonder why all new car interiors come only in grey or beige. Talk about boring. Back in the sixties and seventies you could get an interior in just about any color of the rainbow. I had cars with green, blue, red, gold, you name it. You could even order whatever interior color you wanted along with any exterior color. Want a green car with a blue interior? No problem. Might look stupid, but you could do it. Modern cars have no personality, inside or out.

    • Because that’s what sells, bub. Or at least won’t sit on the dealer lot because it has an “odd” color scheme and the 3rd string sales associate is more interested in talking about monthly payment than they are in creating a desire for a vehicle.

      • Actually it doesn’t sell. The sale of “large” sedans has been in a decline for several years. It probably has everything to do with BORING looking cars and the fact that they are simply too damn small. Most are smaller than an early 1970’s Plymouth Duster, and don’t even have that “base” 6 cylinder engine!

        • Try telling that to the sales manager who’s placing lot orders from a web site. Just click the same boxes every month. Or better yet, do a sort by color on the spreadsheet and find out that white sells the most, more than any other color. So that’s what gets ordered, even though by only having a bunch of white vehicles on the lot you skew the results.

          The same reason all the car dealers are in the same part of town. None of the dealers have any imagination left anymore. None of the salespeople actually know how to sell cars. They can fill out all the paperwork just fine, and they can figure out your monthly payment, as long as the bank financing web site is working. When I bought the Cherokee the salesman handed me the keys to one of the lot cars and that was it. Go for a drive by myself. Come back, ask a few questions that he wasn’t all that sure about. Call him back a few days later to get him to track down one with the options I want. Pick it up, demand nitrogen (as I requested) in the tires and drive off. Nice enough guy, but really the whole thing could have been handled by a good web page.

          I drive past “dealer row” every day. The cars (actually mostly pickup trucks) are all identical, parked out in the front of the lot. All the same color, minor differences like roof racks or decals, but otherwise the same. Looks fantastic from the highway, but I’m not buying curb appeal of the dealer, I’m buying a vehicle I’m going to (hopefully) enjoy. I think the dealers are too close to their product and figure that cars are utilities instead of trying to create magic.

    • Same thing with the exterior colors. My wife likes her “sand” colored truck – I would’ve preferred red, and my car is Gulf Blue.. Most cars I see out there are bland colors – white, grey, silver; the same colors associated with old folks :). Where’s PT Barnum when you need him?

    • Reminds me of my uncles all white 90′ Suburban with throwup purple interior. It was like a dark grape/burgundy color. I always felt sick getting in it going from all white to purple…

  16. The only advantage of similar looking cars is they are hard to stand out in a crowd, so you have less chance of being identified. Also, most new cars come in white silver or black. Not too much variance there either.

    • Swamp, it’s a sorry day when we WANT to have a vehicle just like everyone else so you’re not targeted by highway Nazis.

      I’m sorry to say I and friends have used the term Highway Nazis since the middle 70s. Texas DPS were hot on Tricky Dicks War on Drugs.

      I loved driving unique vehicles. You never saw another El Camino we had. Big factory wheels because of the trailer tow package, a metallic red with black SS stripes with a black custom bed tarp. Hidden 2.5″ dual exhausts and that stance only something with big springs and large wheels and tires conveys visually from a distance. Add the SS CB antenna and it was one of a kind.

      Getting knocked off by a friend back then was common as was meeting them in their unique vehicle had us commonly doing a ueey to meet a friend on the open road….even in other states.

      Soon it was a white Silverado to blend in. The light blue Nissan 4WD pickup was the ultimate sleeper leaving those with shiny, fast cars to take the fall when a DPS had big numbers on the radar unit, not even realizing it was that little pickup.

      Since then it’s been typical cars and pickups. Now it’s a Z71 so common they’re like crickets under street lights.

      Yesterday I turned onto the big highway off my FM road right behind an identical pickup right down to the tool box. I stopped behind it at the first town. He went straight and as I turned I saw another exact clone at the 4 way stop turning to the direction I had come from. The horrible thing was my relief with blending in.

      You could have been a dangerous wanted criminal in the patch with a white crew cab pickup with a black RanchHand cow catcher on the front and been invisible.

      I no longer even know what brand most vehicles are unless very close.
      Cars have all been one of a catfish front end with varying degrees of styled in emotion. Sad, mad, glad, happy, etc. Catfish.

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