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It’s Time to Design Slow, Colorful and Asymmetrical Cars

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.

Actually, I recently went to a Nissan dealership and they said that surprisingly Baby Boomer's have more interest in the Cube more than slacker/hipsters.
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A good catch! Yes, some Boomers do indeed want to feel young and sometimes express it by their car choice. Maybe I was thrown off by the fact that during the time I worked at Honda R&D, the Honda Element was designed by Americans of the Slacker generation -- with final approval from Boomer age Japanese engineers :).
Interestingly, the first ads for the boxy Scion xb showed images of skateboarders wearing cutoffs.
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I need to learn how to express myself with greater precision. I meant (above) that "all Boomers do indeed want to feel young, and some express it through their car choice."
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One of the most famous high-concept custom rods of the 60's had a name like "The Assy" for its asymmetrical grill design, and there was a production Ford Fiesta similarly set up in the 1980's.
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With the way new cars are being designed now, I wouldn't be surprised to see cars worse than the Cube hitting the road (which is why I like the older cars.)
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Haha at first I thought that this post was a joke (a la The Oatmeal) but then I realized it was serious. I personally hate to see this prediction come true. I think the Nissan Cube is one of the ugliest cars on the American market right now. (I'm Eighteen, by the way. I can agree that they designed the car with the younger generation in mind but I can assure you that most people I know couldn't give a care about the Cube.)

The most beautiful car in this article is the Cadillac.
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It's funny you wrote this, I've spent some time designing similar things...

love it or hate it, I think it would make things aesthetically more interesting.
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the reason for bilateral symmetry is aerodynamics. It doesn't take a college degree nor a nobel prize to figure that out. News Flash: not everything of importance revolves around urban lifestyle. there are still some of us that commute the 30 miles to work by either a 2003 Ford Ranger pickup or on nice days, a 1997 Suzuki DR350 Dualsport. both are bilaterally symmetrical which not only helps with gas mileage but also by tracking in a straight line at highway speeds. stick your hand out the window....feel that? multiply that force by the square of the area and you will see WHY automobiles are not typically bilaterally asymmetrical.
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zim-zimminey- zeeroooooo! diffle-dee doo! wacky cars! can't believe it!
dooooo-piddy doopdy dooo! mine would have square wheels, and instead of a steeing wheel it would have a toaster, and there would be a couch on the roof where I could sometimes make out with amelia bedelia.
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i'm not huge on andy warhol but his custom asymmetrical painted sports car is one of the most beautiful things ever

i would give anything for that car
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I am OCD and have a great need for orderliness.....however, I also grew up near San Fran in the 60s....ok I was in elementary school in the 60s...but took field trips to San Fran.....and to me the cube is a pretty cool fun car to drive. The VW bug was shunned by ADULTS back then too, as was the VW van that ALL hippies drove. Anyway have traded in my beloved Xterra for a fun cube that doesn't have to stop for gas every 30-60 minutes!!!
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I chose to buy a Nissan Cube specifically because I was bored with my car looking "just like everyone else". I love the asymmetry of the rear window - I even emphasized it by placing a vinyl sticker around that window. What does your car say about you if it's the same car everyone else drives? Personally I want my car to be as unique as I am. You pick your clothes and your home decor because they're things that jump off the shelf at you and you think to yourself "this is me!" Well, those of us who drive/love our Cube's see them and think "Yes! I want to drive a car that is UNIQUE and FUN in a very obvious way!" Don't hate just because it's a car that you, personally, don't appreciate.
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