In the fall of 1983 I experienced a prophetic flash: At some time in the future, automobile chassis design would no longer be constrained by a rule that dictates that a car body be bilaterally symmetrical. Of course, I knew that almost all living creatures are bilaterally symmetrical – with a few exceptions like the flatfish that has two eyes on the same side of its body. But with most fauna and even many flora, the two sides are identical, arranged along an axis in mirror fashion. I wondered if there would come a time when auto designers no longer felt the need to mimic nature but instead could try out new forms. I drew several examples of car models that I foresaw.
Traditionally, automobiles were designed to be symmetrical from left to right side, and asymmetrical front to back. Thinking about this, I realized there were several problems with my vision of asymmetrical cars in the future. First, cars move faster through the air when their exterior body is shaped smoothly. Complex air currents that are caused by an uneven surface tend to slow a vehicle. Second, while consumers like novelty, they are conservative in their attitudes about what they consider beautiful or graceful. The Ford Edsel, for instance, was mocked and shunned by most car buyers because it was viewed as ugly.
But times are changing. For the 2008 model year, Nissan introduced the Cube, one of the first production cars offered for sale in the United States that included an asymmetrical design feature. Darkened glass hid the right rear pillar, which was painted black to further conceal it. This was a car intentionally designed for rebels, Slackers and the younger generations, persons who have a taste for irreverent, post-modern and whimsical design. To many elders, the lack of a D-pillar might seem disturbing, as if the car is off balance.
The Nissan Cube broke a design taboo! Now there is an opportunity for auto designers to mount an all-out effort to design cars that are cheerfully asymmetrical, unusual looking and painted in distinctive, randomly-applied colors on unusually-shaped body panels. I believe that trends have converged to make it possible for my 1983 prediction to come true. These trends include just-in-time manufacturing, computer-aided car body modeling and strong but ultra-light materials. Cars that older generations would regard as horribly misshapen just might become the new standard for vehicular beauty. After all, in some urban areas –Los Angeles comes to mind – motorists long ago concluded that driving a car is an act of madness, a surreal commitment to willingly perform a dangerous act, but an act that for much of the time involves driving at no more that 3 miles an hour during the miss-named “rush” hour. Why shouldn’t cars celebrate each owner’s uniqueness, and offer the possibility that the freeway itself will become a slow-moving, crazy, mardi-gras-style car fashion show?
We know that for most days a typical car is driven for as few as 40 miles, at speeds of less than 25 miles per hour. Where, then, is the need for all those sleek, aerodynamic cars that are designed as if they must move through the air as fast as bullets? Many folks now express an interest in slowing down. Restaurants have appeared that offer Slow Food in a relaxed and peaceful dining atmosphere. There are even restaurants that offer an opportunity to dine in total darkness! Some cities in Europe are advertised as Slow Cities. The new whimsically-designed, asymmetrical automobile would mock the need for speed. The brochure could proudly claim that it failed all wind tunnel tests, that it was literally resistant to speeding! You read it here first: Slow vehicles are the next car trend.