Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Meeting the Challenge

My last vote from the Auto Show goes to Dodge.

Keep in mind that, as a New Yorker, I don't drive (often), and rumor is that Dodge has been a bit trouble-prone in recent years, specifically where it comes to their brakes being unreliable.  Cars more than a lot of other products have a strong element of utility influencing their design or should, anyway.  While I'm no auto mechanic, I'd like to think I have an above-average knowledge of the workings of the engine, ergonomics, and aerodynamics.  Nonetheless, my interest in general and on this blog is in Industrial Design, foremost.

In that regard, I was very impressed by what they're doing.  Chrysler was really the manufacturer to pioneer that big, beefy front end a few years ago with their new 300.  But Dodge sort of already had it, mostly in their trucks, so it was only a matter of accentuating it more.

First, their Zeo was really one of the more impressive of the concept cars (click the images):

It has an all-electric powerplant fueled by a lithium-ion battery, but can do 0-60 in under six seconds, which is pretty darn good.  
I think the look of it is beautiful.  I'd totally drive this.

The only problem I have with all electric--and I wonder why this isn't discussed more--is that if you have to plug your car into the wall when you get home, and your power supplier generates electricity burning natural gas, then what exactly is the difference?  I can't imagine the pollution potential would be all that much less.

Their other offering was just so fun, and I want one.  This is the new Challenger (click):


Taking design cues from the history of automobile design, itself, is nothing new really.  Aside from the Excaliber, which is more just goofy than anything else, I started seeing both Chrysler and Lincoln doing it about five years ago or so?  Still amazing that it took that long for automotive design to get to the point of celebrating itself.  

Here's the '68 Charger:
Sex in Steel.  A truly pinnacle moment in design history, and a real tour de force from Dodge. (Put up your Dukes.)

It's Postmodernism again, but about 40 years behind most other design fields.  My feeling is that automobile design, less so than the design of small electronics and motorcycles, but more than most others, values so very highly the appearance of newness.

So now that they've opened the door to historical forms, and it's no longer novel, it becomes a question of which historical forms they choose, from what time period, from what model, and in what combination they use them.  It's an exciting moment, in fact, because we're witnessing the birth of automobile design coming into its own as a formal language.

I do sort of wish they'd taken some '60s/ '70s cues for the interiors, as well, but I'm not complaining:

©2008, Ryan Witte

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