Battle of the box cars

Right angles were supposed to be the new wave of car design, but consumers just aren't thinking inside the box.

What's inside the box?
What's inside the box?
Automakers are constantly looking for ways to create sales momentum with new design themes. Just recently, design boss J Mays declared that Ford was moving away from kinetic forms as seen on the new Focus with its swoops and swirls, to a more upscale look. Meanwhile Toyota's design chief Dezi Nagaya declares he wants to put more emotion into Toyota's inoffensive styles.

But suppose you declared a design trend and nobody showed up?

Such is the fate of the boxy look. Right angles were supposed to be the way forward for body styles in the decade of the 2010s. After all, they represented a more functional use of space than anything with curves. The overly ovoid 1996 Ford Taurus had flopped, and the popularity of minivans and Volvo station wagons was supposed to signal a growing appreciation for more practical designs.

Psychologists were suggesting that our subconscious desires were pointing in a new direction as well. A researcher at the University of Bamberg in Germany theorized that curvier cars became popular during certain eras and angular cars grew in popularity the rest of the time as an alternative. Even though evolutionary psychologists would say humans preferred more friendly curved forms, the need for novelty sometimes dictated a change. Our thrill-seeking side, the research suggested, occasionally created a need for angles and sharp edges. Sort of like switching to Jon Stewart as the anti-Jay Leno.

Thrill-seekers have been hard to find so far in 2011. Blame it on what you will, whether it is the troubled economy, gridlock in Congress, or the Euro debt crisis. Sales of boxy cars have been universally slow -- with one standout exception that plays with the usual formula. Herewith, a gallery of box cars: the good, the bad, and the ugly.


By Alex Taylor senior editor-at-large - Last updated October 05 2011: 11:02 AM ET
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