Parental issues aside, one thing is clear: nobody in this world has the authority to call something beautiful or ugly without running the risk of having their opinions challenged. Sure, when it comes to judging appearances, you might feel as though the opinion of a world-renowned visual artist holds more value than that of a person dressed in a tracksuit at an evening party, and you would be right. However, not even in this situation would we be talking about supreme, undeniable truths. As long as at least one person has a varying opinion, objectively speaking, both are equally as valid.
Naturally, talking about automotive design raises the exact same quandaries: am I entitled to pass any judgment at all and, if I am, is it worth anything? Well, in the grand scheme of things, no, I’m not, and no, it isn’t. But if enough people feel the same way as I do about the current trends we are witnessing, then I automatically become the voice of a smaller or larger group of people. I guess what I’m trying to gauge with this article is just how large this group of people might be. As well as vent some frustration.
It’s hard to go back and identify where it all went wrong. Some might point a finger at GM’s EV1 and blame it for starting the “electric vehicles need to look funky” trend, while others might look closer to present days and call out Tesla’s façade futurism with its yet-to-be-launched Cybertruck – and they would all probably be right. Pinpointing a certain moment or model is nigh on impossible for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist. It’s actually a collective of factors that brought us where we are.
But where exactly are we? Well, this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) saw the launch of a few car concepts, most notably the BMW i Vision Dee and Peugeot’s Inception Concept. The very fact we’re seeing cars so heavily associated with an electronics show should tell you a lot, but that’s nothing new. Besides, there’s no point denying anymore that our vehicles are turning into technological gadgets on wheels and the only thing opposing it will bring is frustration and regret.
However, the part I find concerning is that carmakers have seemingly begun to use exterior design more as a tool to signal just how technologically advanced their new model is rather than as one of the main commercial pulls of that vehicle, like in the good old days.
Sure, they will use all the marketing lingo they can come up with to persuade you that what you call “ugly” is actually “futuristic,” you’re just too dumb to realize it yet. Before you know it, the whole market embraces the trend and, would you believe it, what was once marketing mumbo-jumbo becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were right all along – it was the future.
It’s worth remembering both the BMW i Vision Dee and the Peugeot Inception Concept are just that: concepts. Both claim to preview a new design language for their brand’s upcoming models, however, and while that might be more marketing talk than having anything to do with reality, you have to ask yourself this: why didn’t they use prettier concepts for it?
Take the BMW, for instance. There are a ton of things we should love about it, especially since it’s supposed to draw so much inspiration from past models – and, to be fair, some references do manage to come through. At the end of the day, though, it is needlessly complicated in its simplicity, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t, and I might have said it only because I thought it sounded deep, yet it’s a fitting analogy for what the automotive industry is doing right now: making cars weird because they think it paints them in an interesting and hi-tech light.
It pains me to give Tesla credit for anything, even if it’s negative, but I feel as though the Cybertruck is at the root of the problem. To me, that reveal was the industry’s “the emperor’s new clothes” moment. It was when the public should have said, “wait a minute, I don’t care about acceleration, range, towing, or payload enough to ignore THAT exterior design. No, it’s not disruptive, it’s stupid and ugly.”
Instead, the electric truck received God knows how many pre-orders, and the company continued to inflate its already bloated value even further. We had failed the test. If Tesla, the one company more valuable than all the others put together, could do that with what it promised would be a production model, what could possibly keep the rest from churning out one ridiculous concept after another?
I’m probably projecting all or most of the blame on the Cybertruck out of a need to find the culprit when in reality, as I said, multiple factors are involved. Electrification is one, as is the ever-increasing level of technology. With the various levels of automated driving being quoted constantly, there’s no telling what our cars will look like over the coming decades, but the automotive design is clearly finding itself at a crossroads.
So far, it looks to me like the industry didn’t choose the right direction – or at least, not the best. Either that or age is finally catching up with me and I’m becoming the grumpy old man who’s at odds with current times. Still, like everyone else, I’m entitled to an opinion, and my opinion is we need more beautiful cars. Not weird, not eccentric, not minimalistic, not futuristic, not bold, not anything else – just beautiful. If that makes me an old fart, so be it, I’ll take it on the chin, as I’ve been called worse.
The good news is there is still time to call out this naked emperor. It’s up to us to support the brands that don’t make pulling the rug out from under our feet with their “disruptive” designs a goal in itself and shunning those who do. Stay vigilant and don’t forget: they’re after your money, so be very picky with who gets to have it.