Reader Question: Today’s Horrid Styling?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Keith asks: I spent a couple of enjoyable hours on your site today trying to find a column on why autos all look the bloody same anymore. When I was a kid, you could always tell the make, model and year from a block away. Today I wouldn’t know the make of one that ran over me unless it left an imprint of its badge on my butt. If anyone can tell the true story, you can. You may have covered it before but despite searching with several terms I was unsuccessful finding what I wanted but found some great reads along the way. Love your style and your content!

My reply: There are two chief reasons for the homogenous appearance of new cars. And they’re related.

The first reason is that all cars – all vehicles – must be designed in such a way as to comply with the same government regulations, particularly as regards saaaaaaaaaaaaaafety. This leads to . . . sameness.

It began in earnest in the early ’70s, when government decreed “5 MPH” bumpers – so almost all cars suddenly had those ugly metal bumpers hanging off their chins. The regs kept coming and the shape – the template – began to be more and more one-size-fits-all.

Or rather, one shape complies.

Other regulations – and cost cutting pressures – led to the widespread use of cheap plastic/painted front and rear “clips” – beginning in earnest in the mid-late -80s and ubiquitous today. This further homogenized the look of new cars.

But the second big reason for the looking-alike is that so many new vehicles are of the same type – i.e., they are crossovers. Everyone makes them now – even Porsche – and more and more, fewer of them make cars anymore. GM and Ford make almost exclusively crossovers now, of varying sizes and prices but looking pretty much the same and like everyone else’s crossovers.

But why do they make them?

It’s because that’s what buyers seem to want. And why do buyers crave them? There are many reasons but I suspect the chief one is that sedans have become too small and impractical for many people – government regs having made almost all of them small (especially in the trunk) by historic standards as well as bland and boring. So are crossovers, of course- but they do have room – and are practical in that way. A single crossover can serve the purpose of two modern cars.

Big trucks (and big SUVs based on them) have essentially replaced the big sedans that were once very popular with average people. The problem is that average people increasingly cannot afford a big truck or SUV – these vehicles start around $30,000 and with 4WD and a few options easily cost $40k-plus.

So they buy crossovers.

And they all look just the same.

Thanks for the kind words!

.  . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. It’s sad to think with today’s advanced manufacturing capabilities and often far better build quality, we would have far more choices in types of vehicles than ever before.

    But we don’t.

    We don’t even have the option of a variety of individual chosen optional equipment in new vehicles. Want power locks but not power windows, nope, not a chance. It’s a package deal, want one? You can only get both. You want neither? Few cars even come without power door locks and windows anymore. With today’s computers we should be able at the dealer to go down the list and pick and chose the options. Back in the 1960’s you could, of course it was on a piece of paper.

    It’s that way with far more than cars too. Most new build houses are like that now too. Outside of picking a few colors etc there isn’t much choice there anymore either. Want wood siding from a builder that only does vinyl, yup, not an option, even if you can pay more.


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