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7 Reasons Why Today’s Cars All Look Alike

Look-Alike CarsLooking at the cars in an average parking lot might give you a feeling of déjà vu. Many of today’s automobiles tend to look alike. Front-ends are wide and flat. Back ends are high and fat. Windows are high and narrow. It turns out there’s a reason for this sameness. In fact, there are multiple reasons. Here are seven of them:

1. Pedestrian safety regulations. Recent federal regulations require automakers to incorporate front-ends that won’t lop a pedestrian off at the knees in the event of a collision. The simplest solution to this problem is a front end that’s flat and wide. This shape widely distributes the energy delivered to a human body in an impact.

2. Drag reduction. The federal government wants cars to get better gas mileage. So auto companies try to make their designs more aerodynamic. For a vehicle with a large, flat front end (see reason No. 1), this means raising the trunk line even higher to make the car’s overall shape more wedge-like. This is why so many cars now have trunk profiles that resemble the back end of an elephant.

3. Connecting the dots. When you have a car with a wide, high front end (reason No. 1) and a wide, high back end (reason No. 2), the body between them will naturally have high doors and short, slit-like windows. Why not raise the roof to make the windows larger? Again, it comes down to aerodynamics. Plus, high roofs look goofy.

4. Rollover survival. The federal government (them again!) requires that new vehicles be better at surviving rollovers. To meet these federal standards, cars need thicker center pillars.

5. Side airbags. To improve crash survival, side airbags have become standard on many cars. Some of these are housed in the center pillar (another reason why pillars are thicker), others in the roof just above the windows (another reason why windows are narrower).

6. Customer preferences. Notice how similar hybrid cars look? It’s not just a matter of aerodynamics. When Honda put its first gas/electric hybrid engine in a standard Civic, the car barely sold. Why? Because it looked like, well, a Civic. It turns out people who buy hybrid cars want to make a “statement” as well as get good gas mileage. So Honda revived the retired “Insight” name and created a car that looks remarkably like the world’s best-selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius. Not surprisingly, the new Honda is selling much better.

7. Joint Ownership. Most of today’s major automakers own multiple brands. Ford has stakes in Mazda and Aston-Martin. General Motors makes Buicks, Cadillacs and Chevrolets as well as Opels, Alpehons and Holdens in Europe. Chrysler is owned by Fiat which, like Ford, also owns part of Mazda. These companies often mix-and-match successful design features, which can lead to sameness across multiple brands.

With fuel efficiency, passenger safety and pedestrian survival likely to remain federal priorities for many years to come, don’t expect any wild automotive design trends to appear any time soon.

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