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Modern Muscle with Classic Names

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  • john_324john_324 Posts: 974
    "Retro is the new modern."

    Ever notice that in sci-fi films, a cool way to set a futuristic atmosphere is to invoke retro styling?

    Makes sense for the domestics to design cars that invoke the era when they led the automotive world, esp. in a the modern world where they no longer do.

    I think the return to classic designs reflects our view of society and our prospects. In the 1980s and 1990s, futurism was the style; from 1980s high-tech wedge through the 1990s areo-organic, the look reflected our national optimism.

    These days, we're less optimistic for a variety of reasons...so we like styles that remind us of the "good old days" (rose-color, perhaps, but).

    Retro is riding high right now, but it'll change...
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,596
    has been good for Chrysler. Now, it was a lousy vehicle for the initial price, which with price gouging could easily climb to $25-26K back when they were new, but now that prices have come down to a more reasonable level, I'd say it's a decent vehicle at its price.

    FWIW, I sat in an HHR about a week ago, if forced to choose would probably go with the PT. The HHR just seemed claustrophobic inside, and didn't have a good seating position for me. As for sales, they ran off around 134,000 PT Cruisers in CY2005. Not a bad showing for something that's getting a bit long in the tooth.

    As for who copied whom, though, I'd say the PT Cruiser actually owes a bit to the Ford Focus wagon. The Focus style was anything but retro, but it was the same basic idea, a tall wagon with a high seating postition. I think the PT is a bit taller, but it's still the same basic idea. The Focus was a pretty tall car for its time though, and one of the earier examples of the current trend towards taller passenger cars.
  • logic1logic1 Posts: 2,433
    Sorry, I don't agree with that. Retro is the new niche product, and not largely part of the mainstream. Look at the top-selling passenger cars in the US, and you won't find retro players on the list.

    Looking at everywhere else people's taste is concerned, retro clearly is the rage.

    Houses: Modern architecture is a niche. The vast majority of new home buyers want modern takes on themes that have been part of US design in some cases since before the US (the Colonial, the SaltBox, etc.) Even in Sunny SoCal, where modern was once the rage, where you do not have retro Spanish style it is people going wild over mid-century ranch style houses.

    Music: Everyone is still listening to rock. If Buddy Holly were to suddenly walk out of that Iowa corn field, he would recognize all we listen to as variations on themes he was playing around with 50 years ago.

    Clothes: I was out and about this weekend. It struck me that everyone I saw was wearing blue jeans and solid color pull over shirts. Not at all different from what the scene would have been on the same street 50 years ago.

    Why should people's taste in cars be any different?
  • socala4socala4 Posts: 2,427
    Why should people's taste in cars be any different?

    I'm not offering a judgment, just pointing out that for the most part, the cars sold most don't tend to be retro. The ten best selling cars during 2005 in the US were:

    1. Camry
    2. Corolla/ Matrix
    3. Accord
    4. Civic
    5. Altima
    6. Impala
    7. Cobalt
    8. Taurus
    9. Focus
    10. Mustang

    On that list, the Mustang is the only one that I'd consider to be "retro."

    A couple of retro cars have been successful (Mini, PT Cruisers), while one notably flopped (Thunderbird). Many other successful models have fairly modern or quirky styling cues -- hard to think of the Prius, Scion Xb, or Civic as being particularly retro.

    So I just don't see much reason to believe that retro designs are destined for success, or that a few of them will be enough to change the destiny of any of the larger companies. If the Camaro accomplishes anything (assuming that it gets built), it will be to cannibalize Mustang sales and to divert some FoMoCo customers to GM, and not much else, IMO. I don't see these cars, by themselves, turning the fate of GM.
  • logic1logic1 Posts: 2,433
    1. Camry
    2. Corolla/ Matrix
    3. Accord
    4. Civic
    5. Altima
    6. Impala
    7. Cobalt
    8. Taurus
    9. Focus
    10. Mustang


    Well, one through nine are, with a few exceptions neither modern nor retro. Rather, they are bland. The listed cars do not sell on styling. They sell on price and content. The real question is what does the person driving the practical Camry or Impala think is cool - money and other practical considerations not included. More likely than not, they would say the Mustang or Camaro, not the Xb or Prius.

    The Matrix is out there. But if its sales numbers were provided stand alone, I would guess it does not sell all that much.

    The new Civic is clearly modern. It is too soon to see where sales are going to go with the new styling.

    Even with the hybrid craze, the Mustang alone easily outsells the Scion and the Prius.

    The Mustang has not saved Ford, obviously (though even with its big announcement yesterday came the counter announcement it made money). The Challenger and Camaro are not going to save Daimler and GM respectively. But they have a good chance to sell in this market.

    The US is not Japan. In Japan, the people live in out there houses, wear out there clothes, buy gadgets primarily because they are new - with little heed given to their quality - and like to buy new cars with modern styling as often they are able. For the most part, the US seems to prefer the traditional - but, as you point out, buys the bland.
  • carlisimocarlisimo Posts: 1,280
    On the other hand, profits are what matter. And the Impala, Taurus, Cobalt and Focus probably earn less money than the Mustang has.

    If it works in the short term, great. But I wouldn't bank on retro over two generations of one car.
  • socala4socala4 Posts: 2,427
    If it works in the short term, great. But I wouldn't bank on retro over two generations of one car.

    Exactly -- it's a fad, and not likely a sustainable approach to car design. At the end of the day, the muscle car makers would be wise to follow the path of the Corvette -- maintain the concept (in this case, a coupe-style body with a powerful motor and RWD), but to improve the breed so that they are good choices for those who are attracted to something more than nostalgia and heritage.

    Ultimately, I'd try to design something worthy of export, so that overseas drivers start to get a taste for quality uniquely American design and performance. IMO, designing them as throwbacks gives them a short shelf life and a novelty value that will translate into poor residuals for those who own them a few years down the road.
  • I dont agree with that. Chrysler's retro styled PT Cruiser was a desighn of excellence.

    Sorry, I should have been more clear - I meant that when the PT Cruiser first came out, it sold like hotcakes based on the styling alone. You almost had to push that sucker to get it to go uphill, and it had the turning radius of the QE II. There's a lot to be said for improvements made over the years.

    Need help navigating? kirstie_h@edmunds.com - or send a private message by clicking on my name.

  • Exactly -- it's a fad, and not likely a sustainable approach to car design.

    Well, there's a lot of "fad" in car design... some of 'em stick, some of 'em don't. Fins are long out, but they sold a lot of cars with fintails. The VW Beetle styling was out, and then in... and now appears to be out again.

    That's why vehicles get phased in & out, and that's why there are re-designs. IMO, these "fad" cars are a great way for manufacturers to attract new buyers and win back old buyers to the brand.

    Need help navigating? kirstie_h@edmunds.com - or send a private message by clicking on my name.

  • socala4socala4 Posts: 2,427
    That's why vehicles get phased in & out, and that's why there are re-designs. IMO, these "fad" cars are a great way for manufacturers to attract new buyers and win back old buyers to the brand.

    I agree with you that they can be a good way to woo customers, and the Beetle and Z are both good examples of using past mystique to lure new customers to an entire brand.

    I just have to wonder whether Detroit's reputation for producing low-tech, crude cars is somewhat exacerbated by turning their most noteworthy cars into throwbacks from the late '60's. If they have any intention of appearing ahead of the curve, recreating the gas-guzzling muscle car in an era of $2-3 gas just doesn't seem to be a very forward-thinking approach. How do these cars contribute to building positive sentiments for the rest of the product line?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,596
    I would say the Altima and Impala have a touch of retro to them. At least, the 2005 Impala did, not so much the '06.

    In its purest form, "retro" simply means a fashion reminiscent of the past. Well, as time goes by, more and more things have been tried when it comes to automative styling, and there's less and less new, original stuff to try, so eventually, I think everything will ultimately default to retro. At least, by this definition.

    Now, you have some vehicles that try to ape something from days gone by, such as the PT Cruiser, the new Mustang, and the Chevy HHR. But then you have other vehicles, like the '05 Impala, which just had some retro cues applied. It was boxier and had some crisp angles to it, like cars used to be. The greenhouse was reminiscent of '94-96 Impala SS. The round headlights were definitely a retro touch. With the exception of BMW, round headlights went out of style in the 70's, replaced by rectangular lights and then composites really hit the scene in the mid-late 80's. Even Jaguar was doing composite headlights by the late 80's or early 90's...dreadful, last-minute looking things that ruined an otherwise good looking car. Oh, and the back of the '00-05 Impala was definitely retro...it recalls the '62 Bel Air.

    I'd say for the best examples of retro, and how retro can be evolved, look no further than the Dodge Ram, Dakota, and Durango. It's also called the big-rig look, but let's face it, the conventional-nosed big rig really isn't that far, style-wise, from the way cars and trucks looked back in the 20's, with upright cabs, separate fenders, tall grilles, etc.

    Anyway, the Ram was redesigned in 1994, with retro 50's touches applied to a modern truck body (think of it as a brand-new truck with a 1955 truck front-end clip). It also suddenly became a major player in the truck field. Previously, the Ram languished in sales, and barely registered as a blip on anybody's buying radar. But with the 1994 redesign, it suddenly became a strong #3 contender, regularly selling at about 40-50% of Chevy or Ford volume and simply blowing away the GMC Sierra. It had a profound effect on the way trucks are styled, too, and today there is not a truck on the market that's not influenced by the Ram. Oh, maybe not directly, as nobody's actually aping the Ram, but since the '94 redesign, all trucks have gone for a bolder, more macho look. The typical truck of today has much more presence than, say, the typical 1993 truck.

    And the redesigned Ram of 2002 continued the success. For CY2005, full-sized truck sales were as follows...

    F-series: 901,463
    C/K: 705,981
    Ram: 400,543
    Sierra: 229,488
    Tundra: 126,529
    Titan: 86,945
    And if you want to count them in...
    Avalanche: 63,186
    Mark LT: 10,274
    Escalade EXT: 7,766

    Now I doubt if the Ram will ever overtake C/K or F-series sales, but the '94+ retro Ram has definitely proven itself. It's given Dodge a larger market share in big pickups than any previous design ever did.

    Now in the Dakota and Durango lineups, I don't think the latest redesigns have been such smash hits. But back in 1997, when the Durango was launched and the Dakota went for the retro baby Ram look, they were smash hits. In the case of these two, I also don't think the updates work as well, style-wise, as with the Ram. IMO the latest Dakota and Durango just look clumsy, where the previous styles had it together.
  • john_324john_324 Posts: 974
    "Exactly -- it's a fad, and not likely a sustainable approach to car design. At the end of the day, the muscle car makers would be wise to follow the path of the Corvette -- maintain the concept (in this case, a coupe-style body with a powerful motor and RWD), but to improve the breed so that they are good choices for those who are attracted to something more than nostalgia and heritage."

    That's a good point I think. That's one of the reasons I'm somewhat ambivalent about the new Mustang's design.

    Yeah, it's beautiful. But I can't help but notice that Mustang history up until this point has been about an evolution of styling (much like the Vette's).

    Sure, there have been "classic" design touches before, but this is first time we're seeing such wholesale copying of a previous generation. I can't say it's a bad choice for the market today, but I also wonder how it will be viewed 40 years from now.
  • carlisimocarlisimo Posts: 1,280
    The thing with fads sticking is that there has to be more to the car than just style. The New Beetle isn't that great a car. The SSR isn't either. The Mini is, the Mustang sorta is... they'll sell well once the fad's died down. Sometimes low price is the only thing going for a passe car, but that's good enough. They'll sell despite their styling, albeit in smaller amounts.

    Cars that survive the fad will eventually grow stale and have to change. The next Mustang can't look the same... they can keep some of the angles but it'll have to be a new car in order to sell.
  • The New Beetle was a chic car!
    The SSR is very cool but it's too expensive and sits too high!
    The Mini.... chic car
    The Mustang is just OK!

    "Cars that survive the fad will eventually grow stale and have to change. The next Mustang can't look the same... they can keep some of the angles but it'll have to be a new car in order to sell."

    That was my point, some time down the line there gonna have to update it. How are they gonna do it? Bring back the Mustang II?? The King Cobra? LOL!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,596
    That was my point, some time down the line there gonna have to update it. How are they gonna do it? Bring back the Mustang II?? The King Cobra? LOL!

    There is no reason that history has to repeat itself. The reason the Mustang II came to be was because of skyrocketing insurance rates that were killing truly high performance cars, and increasingly stringent government emissions standards, and the CAFE restrictions that were looming on the horizon.

    The gas crisis actually had nothing to do with it, as it didn't hit until the last month of 1973, while the Mustang II was probably in development since 1970-71. It was just luck that it came out around the same time as the fuel crisis, so it was popular for a few years...until gas got cheap again and people started flocking to Camaros and Firebirds in droves.

    So basically, there's a reason that originally the Mustang evolved into the Mustang II. Had it not been for those external forces, it's doubtful the car would have taken that turn, and it would have carried out the 70's being a much more muscular car.

    So it's doubtful that whatever replaces the current Mustang will be a crib of the Mustang II, or, more properly, that fat Mary Tyler Moore generation, since that came between the cool 'Stangs and the Mustang II's. History doesn't have to repeat itself.
  • socala4socala4 Posts: 2,427
    So basically, there's a reason that originally the Mustang evolved into the Mustang II. Had it not been for those external forces, it's doubtful the car would have taken that turn, and it would have carried out the 70's being a much more muscular car.

    I'm pretty sure that the Mustang II comment was intended as a joke.

    The serious side of this, though, is where does Ford go from here for its next redesign?

    -- On one hand, if it evolves the car as a variant of the current design, as automakers tend to do, the next car will also be highly derivative (or "retro", if you prefer), which may cause Ford to stay on this retro track long after it has gone back out of style.

    --On the other hand, if it develops a more modern car, it may prove disruptive to the name plate. Changing from retro faux-60's to a more modern design ala early 21st century may confuse the buying public (i.e. the customer's gut feeling sense about the Mustang may become confused), and seriously harm the Mustang brand for the next generation of cars.

    In other words, while I can appreciate the desire to reach back to its glory days, and while the sales of this car have been good enough to call it a success, that success could hurt Ford's long-term opportunity to define the Mustang as anything more than a nostalgia trip. If Ford tries to fashion the next Mustang into a modern sports coupe, will the marketplace be able to understand what the car is about?
  • seminole_kevseminole_kev Posts: 1,722
    ...I know this has been beat to death for years and years in the Townhall, but my take on "the next restyle after a retro design" is:

    Take the cues of the current retro model and produce a new model with similar themes, but an obviously new car. Not explaining this well, but just like you would have in 1971 after the end of the 69-70 Mustang model for example. Just produce a new car inspired by the old one. Obviously your styling influences and marketing environment will be different, so the car won't look like a 1971 model (thank God), but could still be of a modern take on 60's Mustang styling.

    Or I think you could make a "new" style that still has some key design points to tie it into the previous model/Mustang heritage.

    It isn't a dead road as I see it.
  • socala4socala4 Posts: 2,427
    I think you could make a "new" style that still has some key design points to tie it into the previous model/Mustang heritage. It isn't a dead road as I see it.

    I agree with that. My only point is that a radical shift between one body style and the next could create some marketing challenges for the next generation of buyers. Mustang is a very strong brand for Ford, it needs to be careful to avoid tainting or confusing it as much as possible.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,596
    a new design is going to look different from the old one, even if you're trying to go with a retro theme. For instance, while the current Mustang does have a strong '68-69 resemblance, if you parked them side-by-side you'd see how different they really are.

    Well, unless the next generation of Mustang has exactly the same "hard points" (wheelbase, width, roof pillar location, cowl location and height, A-pillar slope and so forth) then even if you took the next design and tried to apply '68-69 styling cues to it, you'd end up with a different car, simply because you're working with a different platform.

    I've seen examples in the past where people would take a modern car and try to graft on parts of an older car, in an attempt to have the best of both worlds. Somewhere around I have some pics of a project where a guy was trying to graft 1957 DeSoto sheetmetal onto a Mark VIII. Don't go running to the can just yet, it wasn't as horrible as it might sound.

    Well, let's suppose you took two totally different 2006 cars (or any two cars, for that matter) and tried to do the same trick. Well, if you try to graft '57 DeSoto sheetmetal onto a 2006 Monte Carlo, you're still going to end up with a different look than doing it to a Mark VIII. And that's how it would be with retro styling. It will change to fit whatever new platform it gets applied to.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,596
    that the Mustang has going for it is that a lot of younger people think the old ones are cool. It's not just aging baby boomers that like them; it appeals to a wider audience.

    In contrast, the '55-57 T-bird is more of an aging baby boomer car. I can see a lot of younger people looking at one and going "oh, cool!" but not exactly inspiring lust. That might be one reason that the revival didn't go over so well.
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