grand theft auto
July 12, 2003 9:13 AM   Subscribe

A bad seafood salad would have crippled the global auto industry. "Doesn't that new Nissan Maxima look like a larger-scale Saturn Ion? Could the Kia Sorento be a Lexus RX 300 in disguise? Doesn't the face of the Nissan Z look like that of the Toyota Celica (and its taillamps like those of the Lexus SC 430)? Is that the new Bentley — or the new Hyundai?" The sudden similarities in automobile design.
posted by the fire you left me (34 comments total)
They aren't that sudden. I started noticing this in the 80's when I was in high school. Many foreign cars were perceived as being much more reliable than their domestic brethren. Rather than fixing the flaws domestic car companies started emulating the look. Eventually they did work on making the internals reliable but they worried about the dressing first.
posted by substrate at 9:57 AM on July 12, 2003

the mazda rx-8 sounds kinda neat!
In early July, the RX-8 will arrive in the crucial North American market. Fortunately for Mazda, the car might just be cool and quirky enough to make a big splash in the U.S. Despite its low-slung, sleek design, it can seat four adults and has enough trunk space to carry two suitcases. At first glance, its most unusual feature is the rear doors, which open front-to-back instead of the standard back-to-front and make it much easier to get in and out of the rear seat. More important in allowing for the car's ample interior space is its revamped engine -- a clarion call to buffs that Mazda won't forsake its tradition as the best-known proponent of rotary technology. The new power plant is 30% lighter and 20% smaller than the one that drove its predecessor, the RX-7. But with 247hp, it has just as much oomph to chew up the road. With its intake and exhaust ports reconfigured to boost combustion efficiency, it uses 20% less fuel than the gas-guzzling RX-7 -- and pollutes less. "We aimed to redefine the whole meaning of a sports car," says Noboru Katabuchi, program manager for the RX-8.
dunno about the looks tho :D
posted by kliuless at 10:21 AM on July 12, 2003

I hate cars. We should all go back to horses.
posted by nyxxxx at 10:39 AM on July 12, 2003

horses suck. they tear up the trails and leave big globs of shit everywhere.
posted by quonsar at 10:41 AM on July 12, 2003

I like horses a lot, but they're persnickety animals, and I'd hate to go back to 3 million horses leaving shite all over downtown major cities each day -- as bad a pollution problem in its own right as the internal-combustion engine.
posted by alumshubby at 10:52 AM on July 12, 2003

I don't think it's sudden..... I think a better word would be continuing.
From the start, auto manufacturers have copied and borrowed from rivals in order to increase sales - just like almost every other industry out there.
posted by bradth27 at 10:54 AM on July 12, 2003

The Nissan Micra looks like the Vauxhall Corsa looks like the Ford Ka. The Ford Ka Convertible looks like the Beetle Convertible looks like the Beetle. The Vauxhall Astra convertible looks like the Merecedes SLK. Yada yada.
posted by wackybrit at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2003

To me, what's equally depressing is the increasing homogenization that's come from the proportionate descreasing of the number of auto makers due to consolidation. Ford purchased Land Rover from BMW to add to its "Luxury Group" (which also includes Jaguar and Lotus). Now, the iconoclastic Land Rover Discovery will reportedly receive the dubious benefit of "corporate synergy." Who would actually buy these Discoverys-that-are-really-Ford-Exploders? Why bother making them at all?!
posted by JollyWanker at 11:19 AM on July 12, 2003

Recent? All the damn cars have looked alike for years. Gack.
posted by Samizdata at 11:38 AM on July 12, 2003

I believe Lotus is actually owned by GM, not Ford. The Landrover part is still true though.

Wackybrit: IMO you need to see an optician. Unless what you mean by "looks like" is "has four wheels and a driving seat".

That said, I agree with the basic idea of the original post. My only hope is that no-one is planning to rip-off Chris Bangle.
posted by pascal at 11:45 AM on July 12, 2003

A car is just a blank canvas, you've gotta make it stand out yourself a la Art Cars.

Whatever happened to hood ornaments? I'd like to see those make a comeback. Nice big animals or karate trophy sized hood ornaments...
posted by Frank Grimes at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2003

Oops - sorry, getting all these car comgloms mixed up. The third current member of Ford's Luxury Group is indeed Aston Martin, not Lotus.
posted by JollyWanker at 12:51 PM on July 12, 2003

You still have a nice star on a decent Mercedes Benz. That said, some models now have the star lying flat on the hood instead of sticking up.
posted by wackybrit at 1:42 PM on July 12, 2003

Actually, I was wrong about Lotus too - it's not owned by GM. It is in fact owned by the Malaysian firm Proton. Lotus do work with GM though, including building the rather funky Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster.
posted by pascal at 2:49 PM on July 12, 2003

To me, what's equally depressing is the increasing homogenization that's come from the proportionate descreasing of the number of auto makers due to consolidation.

I know what you mean. The Jaguar X-Type's body and rear looks way too much like a Ford Taurus. I'm just praying that they don't start making Aston Martins look like Mustangs.

Who would actually buy these Discoverys-that-are-really-Ford-Exploders? Why bother making them at all?!

Probably the same people that buy low-end Acuras and Lexus models that are little more than dressed-up Accords and Camrys.
posted by gyc at 3:48 PM on July 12, 2003

Get a Segway, it doesn't look like any car foreign or domestic, won't pollute. Or a bicycle.
posted by benjh at 5:37 PM on July 12, 2003

What do you expect when people buy their car based mostly on looks? I know a guy that bought an automatic Mustang GT because they didn't have any silver manuals on the lot. The sad part is he likes the power, and after showing him the perfomance differences between the manual and automatic he was bummed.

I was test driving a WRX a while back, and in discussing the other cars that I was intrested in the sales man asked me what color I liked. I told him that I thought the blue was pretty nice, and as if this might sell me, he excitedly told me that they had a blue one on the lot.

Popular music sounds the same, popular food tastes the same, popular fashions look the same, and popular people all act the same. American society is shallow, is this a new revelation?
posted by betaray at 6:16 PM on July 12, 2003

You want a good-looking, stand-out car for less than a huge amount of money? Get one from the 60's or 70's, and get its innards restored properly. Otherwise, learn to remember exactly where you parked, 'cos you'll have trouble picking your car out in the lot.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:33 PM on July 12, 2003

This has been annoying me for the last couple of years. Every car, whether it's a Volvo or a Ford, a Mitsubishi Magna or a Toyota, has these curved-triangle, thorn-like headlights and taillights. And they pretty much all look like crap. It's gone full circle - i think the trend probably started with the taillights of the Mitsubishi Magna / Lancer - other companies started adpoting the the shape for the headlights, and now the new Magna has thorn-shaped headlights. Bah.
posted by Jimbob at 7:21 PM on July 12, 2003

You still have a nice star on a decent Mercedes Benz.

Don't forget the jaguar on the Jaguar! They do still do that, I think. No?

learn to remember exactly where you parked, 'cos you'll have trouble picking your car out in the lot

It's easy. My car is the one whose lights flash when I press the unlock button on the remote!

curved-triangle, thorn-like headlights and taillights

This is why I like the back end of the Chevy Impala quite a bit, but the rest of the car's a real yawner. Still, before we had the curved-triangle thing, we had the horizontal-rectangle thing. It was just as boring.

The article had a couple of excellent points. First, that the Korean automakers are particularly brazen about stealing styling ideas from other, more upscale, marques. If the Times thought Hyundai's XG350 was egregious, just wait until they get a look at the upcoming Kia Opirus. On the other hand, the Koreans are making a lot of headway in the U.S. market right now, thanks to their affordable pricing, improved quality, an amazing warranty, and, yes, improved styling. I bought a Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback in January of this year myself. It's not a bad-looking car at all, but the main reason I bought it was that, similarly equipped, it was about $4,000 less than the only other car I was seriously considering, the Mazda Protege5. (I wanted a 5-door and the fairly limited number of other contenders all eliminated themselves for various reasons.)

The article is also 100% right about Nissan. The new Z is drool-tastic. Someone who works in the same building as me has one and I park my humble Elantra within spitting distance of it most every day. It is a pleasure just to walk past that car; I can only imagine what owning it and, God, driving it must be like. The new Altima is not bad-looking either. I sat in one when I was test-driving and immediately wanted it. I could have afforded it, probably, but it cost more than I really wanted to spend.
posted by kindall at 8:30 PM on July 12, 2003

learn to remember exactly where you parked, 'cos you'll have trouble picking your car out in the lot

It's easy. My car is the one whose lights flash when I press the unlock button on the remote!

Heh, you think it's that simple? Last night, after an outdoor concert, it was quite amusing to see people trying to find their cars. Since the cars were parked on grass, and there were no lights, everyone was aimlessly pushing their remotes, trying to see where their cars were.
posted by gyc at 8:47 PM on July 12, 2003

In reality, it's even easier than blinking your lights. I just think back to where I was when I last got out of the car, and sure enough, the car has always been there. I've never actually needed to blink my lights to find it.

Presumably the "blink your lights to find your car" is something car salesmen tell people to try to sell them a car that has a keyless entry system. If you mention it often enough, eventually people will start believing that they can't remember where they parked their car.

I can picture the outdoor concert scene. Must have looked like fireflies mating.
posted by kindall at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2003

Just take a look at the Volvo sedans - for decades their boxy look made them instantly recognizable.

Then, after Ford bought them in 1999, things started to change. Compare this '99 S70 with this '99 S80. One looks like a Volvo, one looks like a Taurus with a better paint job. Same thing in 2000: S70, S80. Then, in 2001, everything went that way: S60, S40. It got even worse in 2002 - just look at the C70 and the S60.

I like their safety record, I like the way they drive and handle, and I used to love they way they stood out from the crowd. Now they're just one more "bubble-car".
posted by Irontom at 8:48 AM on July 13, 2003

aeschenkarnos, while I agree that a used car from almost any year is a smart idea and you'll have a better looking stand-out ride, I disagree that it will be for less than a huge amount of money. In my case I purchased an eight year old Police cruiser for around three grand, I had the exterior restored and repainted for about another three grand (including some customizing.) Ordinary maintenance is a little more than a new car, still haven't got the interior restored properly that'll be another grand.

But I guarantee if you see it you won't know what it is or think its similar to the car sitting next to it.

Now, if I add exhaust whistles for the added WooWoo effect, nah. lol
posted by DBAPaul at 10:45 AM on July 13, 2003

Irontom, since new car development cycles are 3-5 years, how could a Ford purchase in 1999 have resulted in a car released in the same model year? And further, 'model year' generally means cars released in the second half of the year before so 1999 model year cars came out in 1998, further debunking your silly assessment.
posted by billsaysthis at 10:45 AM on July 13, 2003

My dream car is a '69 Mercury Cougar. If I had to buy new these days, I dunno. The Honda Element looks kinda funky. (On the other end, how has Pontiac continued to sell any Azteks?)

It's nothing new, though, although I agree consolidation of manufacturers is part of it. Hondas always emulated BMWs, and Kias are now going after Mercedes. And don't forget the cars that are made on one line but branded with different badges (a.k.a. "badge engineering). Want a Honda Passport but don't have the bucks? Get an Isuzu Rodeo. Ford Ranger? Mazda B-series.

And I thought it was confusing enough when you had Mercury cars as upscale Fords, and Chrysler as upscale Dodges and Plymouths...
posted by pzarquon at 11:03 AM on July 13, 2003

i like that all cars look alike now. i drive a tan '96 Ford Contour and can pretty much speed with reckless abandon.

cops just don't see my car because it looks like every other normal sedan.

it's the generic-mobile. it may as well have a bar code on the side.

<slightly off-topic>
after years of driving flashy sports cars and getting pulled over for barely breaking the limit (or other infractions such as no front license plate, drag racing, looking at a cop the wrong way, etc.), i finally just gave up and bought a normal car and have barely been bothered by the police since.

my insurance is less than half and my gas mileage is double.

sure, i miss the speed rush of a sports car, but my car gets to 80 eventually. :)

good gawd, i'm old.
</slightly off-topic>

i agree that consolidation is homogenizing the auto industry. everyone is in bed with everyone else.

Don't forget that the big 3 are all heavily invested in the Japanese and Korean markets, too. It's not just in Europe.

GM owns a large share of Isuzu and has a jointly-owned plant with Toyota that makes Corollas and Prizms. Honda buys the Passport (nothing but a rebadged Rodeo) from Isuzu.

Ford has an equally large stake in Mazda and has (or at least had) manufacturing deals in place with Kia.

Daimler-Chrysler shares some Canadian facilities with Mitsubishi.

is anyone unaffiliated or does it mean death if you don't have a big buddy in the industry?
posted by hawkman at 11:08 AM on July 13, 2003

Volvo sedans - for decades their boxy look made them instantly recognizable.

And their styling made them vehicles that I (and most normal people) would never in a million billion years consider buying. Considering that Volvo is ostensibly in business to sell cars, this is somewhat of a conundrum.

Volvos still have enough unique styling cues to be recognizable as Volvos, but at the same itme, they no longer look like relics of decades past. Yeah, they now look a little bit like Fords, but then, every car looks a little bit like the Taurus after the Taurus. The styling in any case is more in line with what people are actually willing to buy.

Honda buys the Passport (nothing but a rebadged Rodeo) from Isuzu.

Are they still doing that? I know the Passport originally came from Isuzu because Honda wanted an SUV and didn't have time to develop their own, but I thought the plan was to replace it with an actual Honda-made model. Or did they decide to work on the Element instead and keep the Isuzu? After being in some Isuzu vehicles, I have a hard time believing Isuzu can live up to Honda's quality standards.

is anyone unaffiliated or does it mean death if you don't have a big buddy in the industry?

Certainly the economies of scale enjoyed by makers affiliiated with large automakers make them more profitable. And a smaller, less profitable company is always ripe for a takeover from a bigger, more profitable one.
posted by kindall at 11:24 AM on July 13, 2003

All cars look alike? I have to disagree.

Above links are to Porsche Boxster, Lotus Elise, Mullen M11, BMW Z4, Hummer H2, Cadillac XLR, Honda Element, and Mini Cooper. Maybe it's because I'm a "car person", but I just don't see what all the fuss is about. The majority of cars have always been dull, boring lookalikes, and bad cars have always tried to look like good cars.
posted by mosch at 1:15 PM on July 13, 2003

Actually, modern Volvos have a fantastic styling conceit, that wraparound notch that goes from top of the grill all the way back to the end of the trunk deck. It's very distinctive and simultaneously understated, as many people want their expensive imported cars to be.

Regarding the comments on the lack of performance with auto versus manual, keep your eye on sequential manual gearboxes. The idea is very simple: "Uh, I bet we could make a manual and let the computer shift it." Yes, rocket scientist, you can! :) No torque converter, so it's just as direct a connection between the engine and the wheels as a manual, plus the electrically actuated shifter is much quicker and more precise than any human.

The pinnacle of this recent development is found in Audi's dual shaft SMG design, which means that one the newly selected gear is grabbing exactly as the previous gear is letting go. Yup, continuous power to the wheels, no torque converter loss, and smoother than either manual or automatic. I'm positively giddy about that one since I'm being told to stay away from clutched manuals due to a knee problem these days.
posted by NortonDC at 1:27 PM on July 13, 2003

well, it looks like Honda doesn't sell the Passport anymore. probably because of the low quality.

all my friends who bought Passports got rid of them pretty quickly for the same reason.

looks like it's been replaced with the Pilot and Element. there's no mention of the Passport anywhere on their web site.
posted by hawkman at 1:34 PM on July 13, 2003

BTW (for the googlers), Audi's new transmission tech is called a Direct-Shift Gearbox, or DSG. BMW is also selling a robotic manual, called Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG), but it lacks the the multi-shaft design of the Audi.
posted by NortonDC at 2:42 PM on July 13, 2003

kindall -

Yeah, but clearly they made enough money to stay in business with the old styling, right? I mean, they never went bankrupt, and were sold at a profit to a larger company. So, those of us who us who don't fall into the category of "most normal people" must have liked it...

Also, some base MSRPs for the list that mosch provided above:

Boxster - 42,600
Elise - 65,950
M11 - 45,000 - 65,000 (the writeup was unclear)
BMW z4 - 33,000
H2 - 49,270 (with a whopping 11 mpg)
XLR - 72,600
Element - 16,100
Mini - 16,425

Most of these cars are insanely expensive, and not terribly practical for those of us with families. The mini is the neatest looking car on the road these days, but I'd never try taking the kids to the grocery store in it.
posted by Irontom at 5:27 AM on July 14, 2003

If the Mini is big enough for three grown adults to have a menage a trois in, it should be big enough to carry a kid or two to the grocery store! Seriously, that car is "mini" only in name.

As for Volvo, perhaps they had greater ambitions than merely staying in business... you can only go so far selling ugly cars.
posted by kindall at 8:48 AM on July 14, 2003

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