Retro styling is something that auto engineers and designers do when they run out of ideas. A vehicle with retro styling is one that is designed to either look like a modern incarnation of its former, and perhaps more glorious self, or it’s a car is designed with styling cues to reflect the styling of the past in a more generic way. Sometimes manufacturers will resurrect a model name just for the sake of nostalgia, or to try and appeal to people who used to buy their products but no longer do. Rather then bringing something back from the past, the auto manufacturers need to worry only about the future.
One vehicle that is the poster child for retro styling and all of its problems is the Chrysler PT Cruiser. This little gem was huge for Chrysler when it first hit the market for the 2000 model year. The public flocked to it with their check books open. The PT Cruiser was so well received that dealerships couldn’t keep them in stock, and could often get more than sticker price on the sale of one that wasn’t already spoken for. People liked the styling because it looked like something from the past. The PT Cruiser looked like the old station wagons of the 40’s and 50’s.
|Chrysler PT Cruiser|
Now where is the PT Cruiser? Gone, cut, cancelled, no longer in production. The PT Cruiser was built from 2000 to 2010 with very few changes. How is the buying public with such a short attention span supposed to stay interested in a model, even a very popular model, when no updates or changes ever come along? Secondly, what does a manufacturer do to update the styling of a vehicle that has styling from the past? If they change the styling too much then it’s no longer retro, and if they don’t change it enough people get board.
Another example is the Volkswagen New Beetle. The New Beetle hit the market in 1998 and it too was very well received by the public. You might say that the New Beetle started the whole retro style trend. Many a baby boomer remembers the old Bugs that used to run around the streets of America all through the 50’s 60’s and 70’s, and so many of them wanted to recapture their youth, but in something that actually had a heater that worked. The New Beetle has had only a few styling tweaks over the years and some changes in engine options. Volkswagen is set to release a new New Beetle next year with significant mechanical changes; but the body still looks mostly the same. The New Beetle will never again be the hot seller that it was for the first few years it was on the market, but apparently VW still has hope for it.
|VW New Beetle|
Other retro styled vehicles include such things as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Toyota FJ Cruiser. All of these are fine vehicles but what are their respective manufacturers going to do to develop these over the years. Maybe they won’t do anything. Maybe once the public is board with them they will be discontinued. The Mustang came out with retro styling for the 2004 model year. An updated model was released in 2010 with some styling tweaks but still keeping its late 60’s early 70’s looks. What will be next for the Mustang? Perhaps styling cues from the late 70’s Mustangs (remember the Mustang II).
As for bringing back old names, this is no way to keep the interest of the younger generation of car buyers. The most profitable auto makes and models are the ones with the average age of the buyer being younger, rather than older. Ford let the Taurus die an ignominious death. The Taurus was the only sedan that could compete with the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry as a sales leader back in the family sedan market of the late 80’s and early 90’s. After achieving fantastic sales numbers it was then allowed to languish as Ford spent their R&D dollars developing more profitable SUVs. Once the Taurus was nearly dead the only buyers were rental car companies who were able to get a good deal buying in bulk. Ford got rid of the Taurus name with a new model labeled the Five Hundred (this also was a moniker used on several Ford models from the past). After using the Five Hundred name for a few years they switched the name back to Taurus. Why? The name Taurus has too many negative connotations, particularly for younger families that are the target demographic for the new Taurus. In reality the new Taurus is a fantastic car in many ways but most people won’t touch it with a ten foot poll because of the name.
|Old Ford Taurus back when it was a good seller|
The best way to sell cars over the long run is to build really great cars that drive nice, and last a long time. If more of the manufacturers would stick to this concept then they could give the cars whatever name they want and people won’t care. Look at brands like BMW. Very well known for their luxury and performance sedans and they use names like 128, 335i, 525i, and 750i. Despite these seemingly meaningless names the cars still sell well across all demographic groups that they target. Just build good cars, forget about the past, and focus on the future.