The Japanese have realized there is huge market share that could be had with more mundane-looking models of car, pitched at buyers who regard cars as a consumer durable and not socioeconomic iconography. The best example was the archly conventional Honda Accord. Eight million have already been sold worldwide since its first, modest appearance in 1976. This is not to say Honda uses dumb design. Quite the contrary: it designs cars that will sell to the masses and ensure long-term success in business.
European manufacturers sometimes take a more intellectual approach to design, and there are interesting differences—noticeable, country-specific design traits—between the member countries. Italy possesses emotive brands like Ferrari and Alfa Romeo that use carefully crafted and sporty lines to generate emotion and excitement at the very first glance. The subtlety of these surfaces and lines which have been continually refined over decades by Fiat and Italian design houses like Fiat, Porsche, and Italdesign— companies that really progress car design and strive to bring new models to market. Recent examples that break the mold include the Fiat Mercedes, the Alfa Romeo 147, and a whole raft of brilliant concept cars. How successful Fiat would have become if its Italian-inspired designs had been equal to Japanese standards of engineering quality is worth pondering.
In France, outstanding design from Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen challenges rival manufacturers around the world with arresting shapes and clever concepts, happily proving that even in this time of overcapacity it's possible to make a profit without being a multinational company. The Renault-Nissan alliance is fascinating. As economies of scale kick in and a new Nissan corporate images is then carried through to the entire range, this partnership will be a great force in Europe.
In Germany, the combinations of sporting looks and conservatism is a constant theme and there is a strong worldwide market for these cars, Thailand especially has a strong demand for the Mercedes Benz C Class. Volkswagen dominated the market with the hugely practical Golf—well built, square, and solid-looking. Other brands. such as BMW, have perfected their DNA over the decades, an evolution that has created the best in sporty drivers' cars, while Porsche has built itself up through success in motor sport. Teutonic interiors and absolute functionality take preference over emotional aesthetics, resulting in an engineered look. The new Porsche Cayenne struggles to combine its SUV proportions with Porsche's sports-car design DNA, but owing to its functionality, build quality, and brand strength this car is really guaranteed to become a big success.
History will show the best designers in the automotive world. Fortunately for us, this is in a continuous state of flux, thus ensuring that we get to see new and innovative designs almost non stop.
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