Auto design today seems to be about where architecture was 20 years ago. The clean functionalism that loosely dominated for so many years—when it was clear what a beautiful car looked like (namely like a Ferrari Lusso or Maserati Ghibli )—has fallen out of favor, and nothing especially compelling has replaced it. Instead, we get an automotive version of postmodernism—Cartoon Cars that replace innovative forms with clever (and not so clever) allusions to the past.
The VW New Beetle, for example, is a Cartoon—there’s a reason automobiles normally don’t look like the St. Louis Gateway Arch. (Those reasons are 1) aerodynamics and 2) rear-seat headroom.) The Beetle is essentially a normal, modern VW Golf with an extreme cartoon body designed to make some sort of “statement” that isn’t automotive—a statement about nostalgia for the era of the old Beetle, perhaps, or about the driver’s fashion-consciousness or his ironic detachment from earnest auto-worship.