Every car has the same mechanics, the same key concepts but what makes it memorable is that one key design, whether that design was good or bad is left to be decided by the public.
Bringing a new car to market costs more than $1 billion. Thousands of engineers sweat the details on everything from engine design to aerodynamics to how many kilojoules of energy the crumple zones can absorb in a crash.
But none of this will matter if you make an ugly car.
If you get it right, you end up with a classic Porsche 911 or the original Ford Mustang. Get it wrong, and you produce an AMC Pacer or a Ford Edsel – cars that have gone down in history as sales flops and aesthetic disasters.
The history of automotive design offers no shortage of lessons on how to create a bad design. One proven path to failure is design by committee, which was the undoing of the legendary Pontiac Aztek.
The Aztek was commissioned in the mid-1990s by then-GM chairman John G. Smale, a former Proctor & Gamble CEO who was convinced that GM needed an edgy, unusual vehicle that would turn heads. GM spent a fortune on focus groups, and the Aztek’s design was vetted by an endless series of committees.
No single vision was allowed to prevail as the Aztek’s shape and details were tweaked and altered. Then the bean counters threw a curve ball: to keep costs down, GM accountants decreed that the Aztek must be built on an existing minivan platform. Unfortunately, the minivan was too short to work with the Aztek, forcing designers to revamp the tail, producing a hunchbacked monstrosity.