In which I take issue

Alright, I’m about to react to something here.

For years, I’ve been hearing how some cars are ugly.  Not just not appealing, but “ye gods what were they thinking how could anybody stand to live with themselves having designed or purchased that car” ugly.  While I understand opinions sell, and the stronger the opinion the stronger the reaction, can we please refrain from the accusations about peoples’ intelligence or moral standards on the designs?

Sure, there have been some misses in design.  Take the … um … clearly inadequate material issues over at Lululemon.  Or questionable designs like the exit points of some slides.  But to completely lambaste someone over their choice of approaches over a vehicle?  Come on, it’s not like it’s life or death.

Take this list, for example.  The fine folks over at Yahoo! Autos would have you believe that these designs are the worst ever created.  While I will grant you that some of the designs are long in the tooth, and some are of questionable values, could they possibly be the worst things ever designed?  It really comes down to a changing taste more than questionable designs.

For example, the Lincoln Town Car.  The slideshow describes it as a living room on wheels.  Sure, the time for gas-guzzling V8 engines has passed for most people (there will always be a need for some form of large engine – like trucks, heavy equipment, or car racing).  But the question of comfort is still something that needs to be addressed.  Consider the role of the livery vehicle.  Something with enough room to hold a couple of executives and their luggage in the back.  Take the golf clubs and crews to the course for 9 holes and 12 drinks.  Load the grandparents in to take to their doctor’s appointment, where they can relax before yet another intrusive and frustrating examination to tell them that they’re old.

I see three cars on this list that I really disagree with.  First on that list that I disagree with is the Pontiac Aztek.  Incredibly frustrating is the opening sentence.  “The question isn’t whether the notorious Aztek should be on the list of most embarrassing cars, but why it isn’t ranked higher.”  Just because it is a design you don’t like doesn’t mean it isn’t a good design.  Consider when it was created: it debuted in 2001, but the due to the way cars are done, the design work is done usually a few years earlier.  At the turn of the century, square angles and “away from the norm” looks were exactly what was being looked for.  The utility of this vehicle pushed the design envelope of SUVs, showing that they were more than just rollovers waiting to happen, or oversized grocery getters for soccer moms tired of the minivan.  There was an optional camping package, that could connect to the rear of the vehicle and turn the open hatch into a tent.  For those who want to go camping but hate to leave a lot of the features of home at home (and cannot afford an RV), this was an alternative.  It also stood out from the crowd of oversized square boxes and shorter Camry-esque rides.

The Subaru Baja is also on this list.  It was only around for a short time, but it blended quite a few of the features of useful life into one vehicle.  If this pickup idea was such a bad idea, why did Ford introduce the Sporttrack Explorer, a 4 foot bed with a roll cage “extender” remarkably similar to the Baja.  Also like the Baja, it offered four door seating.  True, the Baja sits lower than the Ranger, and the fuel economy was slightly better (the Sporttrack came in 8 or 6 cylinders, according to information gathered in Wikipedia), but it appealed to a different market.  Even some of the source data from (possibly the source of the Yahoo! article, as the list is exactly the same) shows that the Baja appealed more to men than women, and more to an older crowd than a younger crowd.  (It took a while to understand that the numbers in the chart referred to the number of respondents stating they were embarrassed than those that like the vehicle.)  But how often have you found yourself needing just a little bit more space to load something than your current ride has?  I can think of one particular instance a few years ago we had: we had purchased a new TV, and the box wouldn’t fit into the trunk or the back seat.  True, TVs have slimmed down considerably since then.  I also purchased a table and six chairs, and only had a sedan to bring them home in.  It took three trips to bring it all home: two for the chairs, and one with a completely disassembled table in the back.  Having even four feet of cargo space with no upper limit would have cut that down to one, and I still could go get groceries or kids to school.  (Yes, I do a lot of the things commonly associated with “soccer moms.”)

The last vehicle I’ll comment on (not the last one on the list I have issues with) is the SSR.  This was another pickup.  It was intended as a concept vehicle that pushed the bounds.  I think of it as Chevy’s response to the Viper.  Not practical, not necessary, but intended to show what the company can do, and put some fun back into driving.  It wasn’t the Corvette.  It wasn’t the Camino.  It wasn’t the Equinox.  It was something different.  It had a hard-top convertible roof, something that had long fallen out of industry use.  Not only did it use a hard-top convertible, it could raise and lower that top in seconds, not the agonizing “nearly a minute” that other convertibles require.  (The exact data is hard to find, but if memory serves, it could raise or retract the roof in 6 to 12 seconds… pretty freaking phenominal, if you ask me.)  True, the 18 inch deep pickup bed couldn’t hold a lot… but again, it wasn’t designed to be a pickup.  It was the concept of a production hot rod, something that the Viper and the Prowler (successful over at Chrysler before the.. um… issues with design and funding?) already demonstrated.  This was pushing the bounds.  This was stretching the limits.  It was inspiration.  It was… almost magical.

And this list does not take into consideration other vehicles from the past.  However much I like them, the Tucker Torpedo was just as lampooned as the cars on this list.  The Edsel is perennially described as a horse collar – and yet people are deliberately looking for them to turn them into hot rods with style.  The Studebaker is often known as the “Muppetmobile” (at least in my family; check out #46 on the list from RottenTomatoes), yet it was daring and different.  The Vega comes to mind, square, angular, pushing the limits.  Even the Prowler, previously mentioned as a success, was on a list as a design failure.

So, while this has been a long rant, consider this.  Just because you don’t like the design, doesn’t mean nobody out there will like it.  No to people are alike.  That’s why there are so many different cars in the market in the first place.  But don’t rip something apart simply because you don’t like it.  Pick your language carefully.  Instead of saying “it’s horrible,” say something like “the quality of the manufacturing is not as high quality as the image implies.”  Sure, print is limited to what words they can print.  Space matters, and fewer words tell the tale better.  So use a thesaurus.  Find a dictionary.  Find some way to state displeasure without belittling someone’s effort.  Sometimes years go into these products, only to have someone tear it apart in seconds.  Thick skins only get you so far.

Maybe what I’m reacting to is less the list, and more the language.  On this list are six or seven cars I like.  There are three or four more I understand.  The language and reaction to them?  I’m still having a hard time dealing with it.


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