Saturday, July 01, 2006

J'accuse Car Design

In a world where people become increasingly conscious of the need to economize on fuel and the general usage of natural resources, somehow when we hit the road, we wish to ignore it all.

And even though there are some good exceptions, the great majority of car manufacturers seem only too happy to stuff our streets and highways with one ridiculous vehicle after the other. This is not typically an American phenomenon. Sure, many crazy vehicles are US made. But I look at a good number of European products much in the same way.

First of all, there is this outrageous idea that if you have a family, you need to drive cars they call MPV’s or SUV’s. What other purpose do these cars serve most of the time than being huge show offs - of monstruous proportions - of their owners, who most of the time sit at the wheel without a single passenger to accompany them?

I was born in a family of six children, and my father had this wonderful car called the Peugeot 404 Familiale: highly economic in its own days, not taking any more space than a regular sedan; a very simple car, a light weight, but beautiful. And now – I regret to say: look at the Peugeot 407! A true monster of egotism.

The Peugeot 404 Familiale in 1963: a marvel of economy and function

They don’t make these simple and beautiful cars anymore. Cardesign has gone bezirk. The majority of today’s cars are the product of designer’s orgies; and this includes quality cars such as BMW or Mercedes Benz, all the recent models being plump and overdesigned, obese, without regard to true function and the need for economy in claiming space.

When was the last time that a new model came out that was smaller and carried less weight than its predecessor? In my memory, this must be some fourty to fifty years ago. Why is it that we can manufacture ever stronger and lighter composite materials, but cars get stuffed with ever more superfluous kilos?

The US alone is responsible for 50% of the global motorcar CO2 exhaust in the atmosphere, with only 5% of the world’s population. That is a massive contribution by all counts.

The true culprit in the end is us, the consumer. There is no way we could think of anything else than owning a car and projecting our self esteem to it. I am convinced that in hundred years time, people will look back at us with amazement bordering on disgust. By that time people will no longer need Fords or Volkswagens to tell eachother who they are. They will be more concerned about the efficiency of transportation and the comfort of getting from A to B in the shortest possible time. To have designers constantly work on new models for automobiles to them will seem outrageous, a total waste of time and resources. Until then, alas, we will have to put up with ugly piles of metal, glass and rubber polluting our cities and landscapes. Yuk.