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Autoextremist: Ford gets design religion - five...

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Link: http://www.autoextremist.com/page2.shtml#Rant

Detroit. Every once in a while, a story comes along that gets us shaking our heads in bemused disbelief. But this week's story may just take the cake. Rick Kranz and Peter Brown reported in Automotive News that J Mays and Jim Padilla have decided that internal design constraints have cost Ford dearly in terms of design "reach" - and that they're going to free up the design process so that Ford's mainstream designs won't suffer from the calculated blandness that they've displayed all too frequently of late (e.g., Ford Five Hundred sedan, Freestar minivan, etc.). Padilla and Mays took great pains to explain how Ford's internal design parameters for packaging and technology had hamstrung Ford designers to the point that design executions were reaching the street watered-down and devoid of personality - and they are going to take steps once and for all to eliminate this brand of internal over-think and built-in hand-wringing. In the interview conducted at the Frankfurt motor show, Mays said, "Padilla is saying, 'Design leadership is our goal, and I want it there.' It is equal to quality. It is equal to anything else we do because it is going to improve people's quality if we produce an incredible design. Bill (Chairman Bill Ford) is saying it."

My immediate question, just off the top of my head, is - why the hell has it taken this company so long to realize what everyone else in this business has been talking about for at least five years now?

And while Mr. Mays joins in the chorus blaming Ford's built-in design constraints and bureaucratic processes as the reason for Ford's lackluster design performance, I have to ask a few questions of him at this juncture.

Wasn't it you, J, who had the temerity to say (after the debut of the gorgeous new Mustang and the production version of the Ford GT) that the Ford Five Hundred was exactly what America wanted - a blandly conservative sedan with lots of room? And as proof of your contention, didn't you point to the runaway success of the Camry to validate your vision for Ford's sedan of the future? Even though it looked more like "retro-futurism" as applied to the VW Passat?

Wasn't it you who was even quoted in The New York Times as defending the Five Hundred's VW-Audi-esque look with a flippant, "You can never look too much like an Audi, can you?" which instantly became our Autoextremist Bonehead Quote of the Year for 2004? This was the car that was supposed to lead Ford out of the wilderness and finally give them a passenger car entry to compete with the best family sedans out there? But all Ford insiders could muster (off the record, of course) was that at least the Five Hundred (and its Mercury Montego cousin) were "light years better than the Taurus," which wasn't exactly saying much, either. And wasn't it you, J, who coined Ford's future design look as "urban toughness?" Although the new Five Hundred obviously hadn't received the benefit of that new thinking yet - so we preferred to just call it "urban blandness." But the new Five Hundred does hold eight golf bags (halle-frickin-luja!), so there's that at least. Devoid of even a whiff of design "reach" - the new Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego were destined for rental car Hell the moment they hit the showroom floor.

Wasn't it you, J, who was charged with the responsibility of injecting the Ford design staff with new energy when you arrived? After all, wasn't it you who took credit for the Audi TT and the Concept 1 VW, when it was others (notably Freeman Thomas) who were the real creative brains behind the designs? And wasn't it you who devoted all of your top design talent's time on your patented "retro-futurism" push, instead of trying to actually move the ball forward and shape Ford's mainstream design future?

That was you, wasn't it, J?

I know designers live in a bizarre world where the concept of "lead time" takes on an almost eerie cadence with little rhyme or reason after a while - where new models bearing next year's date are being introduced in the spring of the year before, and final designs for a model scheduled for four years down the road are being "locked-in" just a few months after the current version of that same model is making its debut. But that's no excuse for Mays playing the blame game and pointing fingers at the "process" or the nebulous "internal constraints" at this point. After all, it was on Mays' watch that Ford overpromised and underdelivered when it came to their mainstream cars.

My assessment of J Mays has always been that he can marshal his design troops to do retro cool with the best of them (Mustang, Ford GT, Shelby Coupe), but when it comes to creating contemporary, mainstream, bread-and-butter design "hits" - he just hasn't delivered. And judging by his performance over the last several years, I haven't seen anything that would lead me to change my opinion. The great designers have been able to deliver mainstream hits along the way, one way or the other. That was Bill Mitchell's particular genius at GM. He had an uncanny knack for taking the pulse of design trends around the world, and then assimilating and packaging them into mainstream car designs that were a bit risky, always visually arresting - yet contemporary in their appeal - which is why GM dominated the design business for so long in the '50s, '60s and early '70s.

Ford only has itself to blame for the sorry state of motorized blandness that they find themselves in. They can hang it on their internal design constraints all they want, but the fact of the matter is that they're behind the curve and seriously lagging behind the competition in getting visually attractive mainstream vehicles to the street. Ford can't survive on Mays' "retro futurism" alone. They must deliver mainstream hits that have as much visual punch and appeal as the sensational new Mustang. And until they do, they can blame whomever or whatever they want (sunspots anyone?) - and it won't make one damn bit of difference.

Detroit is on the ropes and out of time, and Ford is just now figuring out what they need to do? Add to this the fact that Mays has actually suggested that Ford's design future would be about being distinctive without being polarizing. Huh? How will that get Ford anywhere? Playing it safe at this point is a dead-end for Ford. They need to pump up the volume and unleash all the talent they can muster - with or without J Mays.

So, in the interest of the common good, I'm going to offer up a simple new industry design standard that should help Ford (and every other manufacturer, for that matter) to get their priorities straight. This new Autoextremist design standard is encapsulated in the initials "GFD." Those initials stand for Great F---king Design - and I recommend they be tattooed on every designer's ass in this business. And in conjunction with those initials, the one question that must be asked before any design should be allowed to see the light of day is this: Is it GFD? Because if it isn't GFD, ladies and gentlemen, it's real simple - don't do it. That doesn't mean doing "Acceptable for the Target Market Design," or "The Best We Could Do For What We Were Given to Work With Design," or even the dreaded, "It's Better Than Our Competition Even Though We're Three Years Late With It Design." No, it's really simple. If it isn't "GFD" - then go back and tweak it or re-do it until it is.

Save all the precious speeches, the patented design lingo bullshit and stop playing the blame game. Stick to those three simple letters, and you'll be a lot better off.

And if Ford or anyone else can't muster the courage to do "GFD" - then I'll be glad to add three more initials to predict their future prospects - NVG - as in Not Very Good.

Not very good at all.

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This article is stupid on so many levels. All the design proposals done since Mays arrived have been great.

It's not his problem if his design department comes up with concepts like the Prodigy in 2000 and the public gets the '05 Five Hundred. The Explorer fisherman concept was his vision of what the Explorer should've looked like around '06. We get a friggin refresh instead that looks like crap. The Freestar sure as hell isn't his fault. He works with what he's given.

DeLorenzo's just playing dumb again for his convenience, to make another "wah wah I need to be an attention whore or I'll lose traffic"; well, you can only rehash the same diatrabe before people get tired of your act, and in the case of autoextremist, traffic for that site has decreased over the last months, and for someone who acts like he's all-knowing, he sure seems to conveniently forget this could've been the 500 had Mays had it his way.

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Yes, the Prodigy concept was as Mays as you could get. Management was still afraid of the '96 Taurus fiasco, and this design seemed too "risky" for them, hence the 500 we all know, with the "classic american" one color interior and Taurus air vents in the back.

Then we had the 49, the 427, the GR1, the Continental, Zephyr, Messenger, etc. The results from Mays design department were clearly there. Who wanted the Mondeo to be built and sold here? Mays. Who rejected that "nonsense"? Management.

How funny is it that NA is the one getting the cheap cars? How come the 500 and the Mondeo have interiors that look similar and yet have opposite effects, perception-wise? How come the North american 2006 Ford Fusion has an interior that's worse than the one the european Mondeo had half a decade earlier?

For both GM and Ford, it's managements fault in NA. They've always been the ones stopping progress. Europe and Australia have proven that much.

Edited by mark

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Mays is part of management...he's design management. Obviously he doesn't have all the power in the world but he has more power than the designers working under him. I'm sure he could have fought a little bit harder to get the Prodigy, rather than the 500, built. Speaking about the Prodigy, it can be added to the already long "Cars that should have been produced but weren't" list. DeLorenzo obviously doesn't get the Fusion. It is, as he ridicules Mays as saying, destinctive design that doesn't polarize.

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Padilla and Mays took great pains to explain how Ford's internal design parameters for packaging and technology had hamstrung Ford designers to the point that design executions were reaching the street watered-down and devoid of personality - and they are going to take steps once and for all to eliminate this brand of internal over-think and built-in hand-wringing. In the interview conducted at the Frankfurt motor show, Mays said, "Padilla is saying, 'Design leadership is our goal, and I want it there.' It is equal to quality. It is equal to anything else we do because it is going to improve people's quality if we produce an incredible design. Bill (Chairman Bill Ford) is saying it."


Off the top of my head, it sounds like they are taking a note from GMs scorebook. It sounds like Ford has come to thier senses, but only maybe because now they might have seen or heard or began to believe in the design revolution going on down at GM. IT sounds to me like this is GMs story going on all over again, except this time design is suffering for different reasons.

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DeLorenzo sounds like me with his GFD rally call. Seriously, though, from what Ford is releasing to the public, they are in design doldrums. They have a couple knockouts (Mustang, GT), a couple handsomes (F-series and derivatives), and a lot of good concepts but not much invention going on for the public side. They have somewhat of a similar situation to GM in that many of thier best designs are, so far, strictly on the show circuit. Then there's PAG. They've got it ALL right. Man are Astins beautiful. Man are Land Rovers rugged and elegant. Man are Volvos attractively designed. I'm sorry but those prototypes shown above still reflect an Audi design theme. I love Audi, but it's been done already. Move on.

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Is Mr. DeLorenzo forgetting about the Fusion? I don't think it's very bland at all.

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[post="17852"][/post]


This car is as bland as they come. The only thing interesting/polarizing about it is the face. HarleyEarl said it best when he said this car is the exact opposite of not playing it safe.

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This car is as bland as they come. The only thing interesting/polarizing about it is the face. HarleyEarl said it best when he said this car is the exact opposite of not playing it safe.

[post="18607"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


It's more daring than the Taurus it replaces at least.

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I don't know that that's saying much man. It's a nice design at least, it's just very conservative still, imo. I think when we see the new Malibu we will know what a truly great desgined mid-sized sedan for the everyman looks like.

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it would be interesting to see the original Five Hundred rendering and Montego rendering presented to the press posted here, and it would be interesting to know if that was the original design and if it got badly watered down in clinics and by management. I remember the Montego rending was particularly bitchen love that car in mark's post. THAT would have sold big time. Edited by regfootball

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[post="19234"][/post]



the marauder should look like this. That is sleek.

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And this would be a great look for the rear end of the car... (just a milan sketch, but oh well).

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...And this would be a great look for the rear end of the car... (just a milan sketch, but oh well).
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[post="19442"][/post]

Totally agree!
(just add the trunklid portion & block out the bottom).
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And for the GM too... which might just happen next year with its $100mil update.

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Is Mr. DeLorenzo forgetting about the Fusion? I don't think it's very bland at all.

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[post="17852"][/post]


The Fusion has the exterior excitement of a camry. Anotherwords, none.

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The Fusion has the exterior excitement of a camry.  Anotherwords, none.

[post="19781"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


So wrong, the US/Canada Fusion is the best looking car that Ford makes. The Global version of the Fusion is as crapulous as a Camry.

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Really? Aside from its "bold" face, what else is their to excite the eye? It really has nothing else to offer in terms of excitement or style. It's just a banal sedan. Mustang and GT are the best looking cars Ford has to offer stateside, imo..

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Amazing what a somewhat distinct front end can do, turbie.

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Amazing what a somewhat distinct front end can do, turbie.

[post="42015"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


yes this is true :P just look what it did for the Escalade.....

It's a solid design for the mid-size arena, and certainly better looking than most mid-sizers out there. I don't like it better than the G6 [GT and GTP], however, despite that car's quirkyness and heavy-sided front end. It's got a great look to it, and will attract many conquest sales based on that handsome face, nonetheless. Edited by turbo200

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Amazing what a somewhat distinct front end can do, turbie.

[post="42015"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


It's not just the front end... the side is subtley elegant and sophisticated, too. Pasting that grille onto a Malibu won't create the same effect.

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[post="19236"][/post]


The Five Hundred never looked any good, even in sketch form. If I want a Passat...

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The Five Hundred never looked any good, even in sketch form. If I want a Passat...

[post="42193"][/post]


well, it looks damn fine in my garage. not enough scoops and ribbed cladding for ya?

Posted Image Edited by regfootball

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Not every car has racy lines or a sleek exterior. While I like sporty-looking vehicles, they just aren't for everyone. If you are looking to sell a family-sedan and wish to feature safety or interior volume, having sleek exterior lines probably isn't going to be on the design list. The Ford 500 is styled to address it's target audience (& I think it does that quite well). You'd think that an "automotive expert" such as the extremist would understand such a simple premise.

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well, it looks damn fine in my garage.  not enough scoops and ribbed cladding for ya?

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[post="42648"][/post]


Nope. Get some Bondo and a wrecked Grand Am and we'll talk.

Is that 'yours' yours though?

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Not every car has racy lines or a sleek exterior.  While I like sporty-looking vehicles, they just aren't for everyone.  If you are looking to sell a family-sedan and wish to feature safety or interior volume, having sleek exterior lines probably isn't going to be on the design list.  The Ford 500 is styled to address it's target audience (& I think it does that quite well).  You'd think that an "automotive expert" such as the extremist would understand such a simple premise.

[post="47541"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]

How do you explain the lack of sales? Pricing is in the upper range of the Taurus, but starting in the midrange of the Accord and Camry. The 500 offers tons of space, greaat chassis dynamics, and a good quality interior. Engine power is adequate, and considering your thoughts on styling you must think engine power is not prioritized in this segment either.

I subscribe to the thought that engine power and good style will be a plus that will be attractive to many people. A lot like Mazda has effectively marketed sport in their cars, and delivered the goods to back it up in the 6. Also how Nissan put an emphasis on engine power and design, that paid off well for them. Good design is what will save the American automakers, don't doubt it one bit. I do believe good quality is the foundation for any successful automobile, but a nice stylized and attractive design will increase the gotta have factor tenfold.

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So wrong, the US/Canada Fusion is the best looking car that Ford makes. The Global version of the Fusion is as crapulous as a Camry.

[post="41905"][/post]


Ummmmmm . . . . :huh:

What exactly are you talking about? The completely unrelated, though identically named hatchback thing that's sold overseas?

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Or the Mondeo, the great mid-sizer that ford should've brought to the US five years ago?

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Or perhaps something entirely different altogether?


PS: that sketch of the Montego pisses me off. Such a great drawing that translated so poorly into real life.

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Not every car has racy lines or a sleek exterior.  While I like sporty-looking vehicles, they just aren't for everyone.  If you are looking to sell a family-sedan and wish to feature safety or interior volume, having sleek exterior lines probably isn't going to be on the design list.  The Ford 500 is styled to address it's target audience (& I think it does that quite well).  You'd think that an "automotive expert" such as the extremist would understand such a simple premise.

[post="47541"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


its confusing that they rip on 500's etc. when the camry and accord are atrocious dogs,visually.

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Nope. Get some Bondo and a wrecked Grand Am and we'll talk.

Is that 'yours' yours though?

[post="47542"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


yup, that's it...lack of hp and all. by the time i'm sick of this one the SVT 500 with the AWD and 320 hp v8 yamaha motor should be out...

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yup, that's it...lack of hp and all.  by the time i'm sick of this one the SVT 500 with the AWD and 320 hp v8 yamaha motor should be out...

[post="49419"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


Looks good, man. I'm still not a fan of the greenhouse, but hey, I drive 'interesting' cars, too.

BTW: I have a '98 Ford Taurus SHO now...on Gran Turismo 4. If I could, I'd name it the RegRacer.

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How do you explain the lack of sales? Pricing is in the upper range of the Taurus, but starting in the midrange of the Accord and Camry. The 500 offers tons of space, greaat chassis dynamics, and a good quality interior. Engine power is adequate, and considering your thoughts on styling you must think engine power is not prioritized in this segment either.

I subscribe to the thought that engine power and good style will be a plus that will be attractive to many people. A lot like Mazda has effectively marketed sport in their cars, and delivered the goods to back it up in the 6. Also how Nissan put an emphasis on engine power and design, that paid off well for them. Good design is what will save the American automakers, don't doubt it one bit. I do believe good quality is the foundation for any successful automobile, but a nice stylized and attractive design will increase the gotta have factor tenfold.

[post="48547"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


asians are allowed to sell bland looking vehicles. the public and press still will not allow it to be ok for domestics to do so.

the 500 is developing a cult following but has not hit mass market appeal yet. i do believe the lack of hp and bland styling are to blame. the old folks drawn to this car will not buy it after driving it because it has steering and handling more like a euro car instead of a domestic. they will not like the firm seats, instead they would prefer barcalounger seats. finally, the engine revs well and has a throaty sound, but lacks torque and the lazy feel that the geezers love. whatever marketing points they score with the oldsters on the high seating postion, space, value and conservative style, they lose on everything else. geezers don't like the big console and floor shifter either.

however, the 500 is meant to be a boomer car, and aging boomers won't excuse the lack of tire shredding power and the anonymous styling.

its reprehensible that Ford did not nail it 100% from the start with this car, however, it doesn't mean the car is total crap. its a pretty good car overall, in spite of its weaknesses. I'd bet the Impala will score higher in comparo tests. For me, the Impala I would have been able to live with (SS) would have cost me much more to get into and does not have an adequate back seat.

Ford will fix the problems, hopefully in 12-18 calendar months. We'll see.

I will say this, the car is SOLID. Damn thing is WELL BUILT. Its like a brick crap house. The strut tower brace alone looks like an insane street fighting tool.

BTWthe 06 impala is selling like gangbusters here...... Edited by regfootball

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Looks good, man. I'm still not a fan of the greenhouse, but hey, I drive 'interesting' cars, too.

BTW: I have a '98 Ford Taurus SHO now...on Gran Turismo 4. If I could, I'd name it the RegRacer.

[post="49420"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


regracer is fine by me.........

i had a thought this weekend that it would have been nice to find that lightly used 03 aurora v8 for a price i could afford.........

in that picture the car looks a bit rakish actually. in person its as dull as they say....but get this...the middle aged milf moms at the daycare who've seen it LOVE the car. weird...but milfs seem to dig this car....... Edited by regfootball

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asians are allowed to sell bland looking vehicles.  the public and press still will not allow it to be ok for domestics to do so. 

the 500 is developing a cult following but has not hit mass market appeal yet.  i do believe the lack of hp and bland styling are to blame.  the old folks drawn to this car will not buy it after driving it because it has steering and handling more like a euro car instead of a domestic.  they will not like the firm seats, instead they would prefer barcalounger seats.  finally, the engine revs well and has a throaty sound, but lacks torque and the lazy feel that the geezers love.  whatever marketing points they score with the oldsters on the high seating postion, space, value and conservative style, they lose on everything else.  geezers don't like the big console and floor shifter either.

however, the 500 is meant to be a boomer car, and aging boomers won't excuse the lack of tire shredding power and the anonymous styling.

its reprehensible that Ford did not nail it 100% from the start with this car, however, it doesn't mean the car is total crap.  its a pretty good car overall, in spite of its weaknesses.  I'd bet the Impala will score higher in comparo tests.  For me, the Impala I would have been able to live with (SS) would have cost me much more to get into and does not have an adequate back seat.

Ford will fix the problems, hopefully in 12-18 calendar months.  We'll see.

I will say this, the car is SOLID.  Damn thing is WELL BUILT.  Its like a brick crap house.  The strut tower brace alone looks like an insane street fighting tool.

BTWthe 06 impala is selling like gangbusters here......

[post="49424"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


it was a rhetorical question. I know how I explain the tepid sales, a tepid car overall. No boom in the marketplace, no grab your attention design in the first place. The Asians don't have to design to grab attention because they've already captured the hearts and minds of the public through careful attention to details, perfectionism, consistently improving quality, and legendary reliability. They don't need to do anything any better, and if they would style and design like Americans and europeans can, well they would probably be indestructible.

The cardinal rule for the domestics has to be function follows form. A cool design will make a lot of things forgivable. A gotta have design is the most important key towards recapturing the hearts of greater America. Particularly in the most affluent markets, and in the luxury sector, people increasingly are looking for the most stylish, refined piece. The new CTS should do this well.

I test drove a Cobalt SS SC this weekend, boy what a cool looking car, much better looking, imo, than anything in the price range, except for the Mustang, I can't think of any other car that resonates as well with its powerful stance and purposeful lines. The interior was cramped and the quality of the materials wasn't perfect. The car was super tight, the engine was phenomonal, and if I were in the position to buy, I wouldn't think twice. That design had me. Just a really cool looking car, and people appreciate that.

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in that picture the car looks a bit rakish actually.  in person its as dull as they say....but get this...the middle aged milf moms at the daycare who've seen it LOVE the car.  weird...but milfs seem to dig this car.......

[post="49426"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


Remember the Camry commerical where the middle-aged chicks are checking out the middle-aged guy in his Camry because it shouts STABILITY and RELIABILITY?

I'm surprised your wife didn't tear you apart when you pulled up with it the first day, man.

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it was a rhetorical question. I know how I explain the tepid sales, a tepid car overall. No boom in the marketplace, no grab your attention design in the first place. The Asians don't have to design to grab attention because they've already captured the hearts and minds of the public through careful attention to details, perfectionism, consistently improving quality, and legendary reliability. They don't need to do anything any better, and if they would style and design like Americans and europeans can, well they would probably be indestructible.

The cardinal rule for the domestics has to be function follows form. A cool design will make a lot of things forgivable. A gotta have design is the most important key towards recapturing the hearts of greater America. Particularly in the most affluent markets, and in the luxury sector, people increasingly are looking for the most stylish, refined piece. The new CTS should do this well.

I test drove a Cobalt SS SC this weekend, boy what a cool looking car, much better looking, imo, than anything in the price range, except for the Mustang, I can't think of any other car that resonates as well with its powerful stance and purposeful lines. The interior was cramped and the quality of the materials wasn't perfect. The car was super tight, the engine was phenomonal, and if I were in the position to buy, I wouldn't think twice. That design had me. Just a really cool looking car, and people appreciate that.

[post="49435"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


I like the Cobalt SS a LOT. i drove an Ion redline and had BUCKETS OF FUN doing so. The Cobalt is much nicer than the Ion.

If I were single without kid and living on a tight budget I'd likely have one in the driveway. Edited by regfootball

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Remember the Camry commerical where the middle-aged chicks are checking out the middle-aged guy in his Camry because it shouts STABILITY and RELIABILITY?

I'm surprised your wife didn't tear you apart when you pulled up with it the first day, man.

[post="49438"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


all she said was 'oh, that's a nice car'. lol.

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