Automakers are striking out on chances at greatness

Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the 1970s British TV frolic, used to have this knight in a suit of armor who would walk into a scene just as a character was saying something patently stupid and smack the offending idiot with a giant fish. Sometimes when I sit in an automaker’s presentation for the new steel stegosaurus with a high seating position and knife slashes for a face, I wish I had a fish.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/08/08/automakers-striking-out-on-chances-at-greatness
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Agreed. You missed a few, though.

Vw gets 2 slaps, maybe even three, ok 4. I will be kind.

1 for killing the beetle before developing an EV beetle they could have sold a boatload of in the US as the lightning bug. Come on, how I the Sam Heck did they miss this one?

2 not coming out with a modern version of the thing, again Jeep Wrangler needs some cheaper competition.

3 not coming out with a small pickup. Actually, everybody gets a fish slap in the auto business in the US for that.

And 4, making us wait for the microbus and redesigning it so much it looks more like a Kia soul and less like a vw microbus.

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It was a raw chicken.

You may be confusing it with the fish slapping dance.

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You have cited great examples. I have yet to see any positive feedback on GM using the Blazer name on that current abomination. I liken it to putting the Camaro name plate on a Cobalt replacement. It makes even less sense with the Colorado platform being so well received. I did see a prototype on a GMC Jimmy on the Colorado platform. Here is to hoping the GM product planners get their act together.

Have you seen car commercials lately? Most men in Subaru ads can lactate, Nissan brags about their cars having the “newest tech” and many makers show how their new “safety stuff” can save people who can’t/shouldn’t be driving anything. It’s our own kids killing the auto industry.

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Toyota should get more slaps, I have 160,000 miles on my FJ Cruiser. As a replacement, the Land Cruiser is on the list. Finding a new one to even look at is difficult, and I live in LA. News Flash, you cant sell what you don’t have!
Others under consideration are G-wagon, Range Rover, and Track Hawk, their manufacturers get it, you can actually look at one and test drive it.
One Toyota dealer actually told me “if you buy it, I can probably get it”

But also a slap for Ford, now making the Mustang look like a blotted fish bigger and bigger each year. Bring back the personal luxury car with looks that are its own like the 55-57 thunderbird.

Maybe they’ll come out with a retro version MustangII :rofl:

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Manufacturers want to make money. Making cars is just the means to that end.
If the market isn’t interested in a lot of 2-seat sports cars, “personal” transportation or styling exercises (most of which have been abject market failures), it makes no damned sense to fault the manufacturers for foregoing such “opportunities” and instead just making what sells.
Most Americans aren’t interested in all that other stuff. They want a vehicle that suits their transportation needs, is reliable, is reasonably efficient, doesn’t pollute more than it ought, is reasonably safe for its occupants and comes in at a price they can afford.
(Which does Not mean cheap.)
The individual or family that wants to haul camping gear for a weekend in the mountains is not likely to buy a Miata roadster or a C8, It will buy an SUV or crossover instead, won’t much care about swoopy styling or lots of torque, and will be indifferent to pretty much anything on the outside.
There have been a fair number of low-production number, high-production cost and low-profit margin cars in the past. They lost money. There was a time when those losses could be eaten up in the overall high profits the manufacturers garnered.
Not any more.
And notice how so many enthusiasts suggest things like making cars long since outmoded. The market has passed them by and they won’t/can’t be built again. It would cost too much.
(Remember when Nissan bought up and remanufactured some 240Z’s? Nice touch! Sales disaster. It lost money and abandoned the effort quite shortly.)
I don’t fault the manufacturers for making cars that suit the market.
If some specialty manufacturers want to serve that small niche that calls for fun cars, they can do that, and consumers can pay that price.
If they choose not to, because to be frank even with a “fun” car driving just isn’t all that enjoyable any more given crowded roads and idiot-stick drivers manipulating their smart phones, who can blame them?
I have a fun car that should be finished its five-year restoration sometime come Spring or early Summer.
Neither it, nor anything remotely like it, is going to be that great a sales success again. The market now looks elsewhere. To be frank about it, I don’t want a new 500-700 hp 200 mph car capable of 0-60 times around 3-4 seconds for any purpose. It doesn’t suit my normal driving needs. Even though the C8 is a relative “bargain” at US$60,000 or so for mind-boggling performance, if someone gave me one I’d just sell it asap. It would serve no useful purpose for me. I’d rather have the shop space.
Meanwhile, for utilitarian cars, I buy used SUVs, put them into really excellent mechanical condition, and drive those at a low cost/mile.
I would just never spend ten times as much for a vehicle whose only real purpose is to drive aimlessly nowhere, hauling so little it’s hardly worth the expense.
An old friend from MBA school now retired from the automotive industry once said to my local car club when some enthusiasts complained that manufacturers didn’t make fun cars that they would prefer any more.
“Remember one important thing…YOU are not the market.”
Exactly so.

Lets face it, UGLY is in.
You can see the results by the the rise in value of those wonderful beauties of the 40’s, 50’s and the 60’s.
Now it’s nothing but SUV’s that all look alike and Pickup trucks that are reaching Semi tractor size.
The auto industry has lost its way and nothing on the road today will ever reach collector status like those gorgeous lovelies of the past.
Glad I was a part of that past when the new 1963 Corvette, the 1955 Thunderbird, the 66 Pontiac GTO with Tri-power all hit the show rooms.
And the list goes on. And don’t forget the 1932 and on Ford Flat heads that are still in demand after all these yeas.

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I look at the Challenger, same design for over 10 years now, and they are still selling, (even out selling Camaro). I think the 5th Gen Camaro was a hit, despite the visibility issue. Why because they took some chances on design, and made it retro at the same time. I think Ford has done well with the Mustang, ( despite the above comment). It still draws on the look of its past, and combines it with the future and the tech is very cool. The 5.0 is a beast. I think Chevy missed the boat on stying more retro, and increasing sales. If you look how hot the 1969-72 Blazer line is right now, Chevy could capitalize on that and come out with a more modern version with a retro design, that salutes the past. They blew it big time with that new Blazer. A Modern VW thing would be a seller, if done right. A "lightning " bug would have been huge. The auto manufacturers hit it out of the park with those 60’s/70’s designs, why not draw off of those successes, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel? You could identify the cars back then just based on the design. Now a days if you took the badges off of a car, they all look the same, now way to tell a Toyota, from Chevrolet. Will they get a clue?

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I remember when the new Beetle came to fore and for me it was such a disappointment. A way too long dash with a front wheel drivetrain. It should have had the engine in back (as God intended) with a whole lot more thought going into making it like the original bug with modern twists, like a heater that worked.
But instead VW went to market as cheaply as possible; and the rear engine? Well I’m sure Porsche had some input on that (don’t you dare). If Subaru can make a reliable pancake engine so can VW.
Had VW built the car as I have described it I’d have bought one. But instead, I looked at the new bug and thought “meh” and moved on.

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It is a shame that the car designs now are so often ugly (at least to this 71 year old) – it doesn’t cost any more to design and build good-looking things. Those “knife slashes for a face” vehicles have already kept me and my wife from buying a new Toyota, Accura, Honda or Nissan. We still think fondly of the timeless looks and nearly indestructible construction of our 2000 Camry, sadly traded at 14 for something with more safety features. I have the disposable income to buy something interesting and fun, but I’ll keep it in my retirement fund I guess.

I agree the new beetle drive train was weak, no personality. But for a pancake motor VW would have to do quite a bit to bring that design of a motor back.

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A question just hit me and I think it’s worth asking. How many here have had a car in the past that they’d buy new again instead of the what’s available today?
I’ll start with my 1998 Nissan Maxima SE (4 door sports car!) with manual trans. Simple, good dynamics, and a blast to drive. Not fast by today’s standards but fun to drive, reliable and durable.
Next is the 1973 Nissan pickup. Base model with a stick. Great for all the around town stuff that needed done. Coming from a gas swilling muscle car it’s consumption was a delightful change of pace for my credit card.
Anyone else have a car in mind they’d buy all over again if possible?

Yes. The Ford Focus ST. If money were no object I would consider the RS, but its singular-use design limits it to track days and showing off. At least for me. The ST, with 265 horsies, is a frikkin’ hoot to drive, still comes with ONLY a manual transmission, yet with 4 doors, hatch and reasonable gas mileage is a practical runabout for this 67 year old retiree. Ford elected to delete this and all other cars except the Stang from its US lineup, which prompted me to jump on one of the three left at my local dealer’s lot.

Ford’s decision to kill all cars except the Mustang here in the US is still a mystery to me. Maybe in 5 years they will look like geniuses, but to me, at this time, I have to wonder what they are smoking in Dearborn these days. The Focus and Fiesta are world class cars and even though they aren’t the sales leaders, I can’t understand how Ford can compete. All I have to do is point to Honda’s Civic, or Toyota’s Corolla, or the Subaru Impreza, to back up my argument there is indeed a market out there. And you don’t have to be a Ford Fanatic to choose the Focus over one of these cars, although I will admit having the desire to Buy American (at least the brand name if not the car’s content) can help.

'92 Integra LS, in a NY minute.

The article addresses a couple of issues at once. One is the obvious missed opportunities for capitalizing on retro design. The other would be some lack of creative design talent currently working at the automakers’ studios. Also, the “chicken or the egg” conundrum of market demands.

  • While I would agree there are plenty of very cool design trends and details from the past, the real issue is why? Why did well-designed cars sell well initially and then continue to be in demand decades later, while todays vehicles look completely generic? Creativity, is the only real answer. Actually hiring real artist/designers, who are not afraid to take chances… and management with enough cojones to support them.
  • The current studio edict seems to be: “Let’s hire some kids fresh out of the Arts College and ask them where we should go”. Yet the actual corporate culture hasn’t changed, so the 20-something designers are afraid to rock the boat, argue their ideas and lose a good job. Instead, it is much safer just to look around at what the competition is doing and make a “tweaked copy”. The boss says, “Good job, you certainly know what’s current!”. But the market says, “Meh”.
  • As for the Chicken or the Egg; does great product design actually create markets where none existed previously, (muscle cars, minivans)? Or, does the public always vote with their wallet? I would say both, but the “voting” concept does not excuse only having limited choices. Back in the day, introducing new product choices was an expensive sourcing and tooling proposition, taking 3-5 years to bring a new model to market. Limited options were to be expected. However, in today’s CAD/CAM production world, adding a re-configured product can take only weeks or months. The only excuse automakers have is really, “If we don’t build it, they won’t ask”.
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Other than the ridiculously anachronistic 911, is there one other car made with a rear engine since the fall of the Berlin Wall?