First off, I love cars, I own an odd one, and, thanks in part to Make: magazine, I've even raced them a little bit. That's why I've deluded myself into thinking my opinion on this has any relevance here at all. So, if you don't mind, indulge me.
Recently, a study showed that people tended to prefer cars with "angry" faces. Auto designers have known this for a while, as the vast majority of cars available today have "faces" (you know, the front end arrangement of headlights, grille, and shapes that we tend to read like a face) that are at least aggressive, and at most absolutely freaking livid. This is across the board, too-- from entry-level cars to minivans to expensive sports sedans-- they all look like pissed-off turtle robots. There are exceptions, of course, but many of the most notable ones (New Beetle, Mini) are modern updates of vintage designs.
Now, I think there is absolutely a place for aggression, determination, and even a bit of anger in auto design-- some of my favorite cars use this as a major styling inspiration-- it's more about raw power and aggression becoming the default look for all cars that disturbs me.
Personally, the visual character I've always sought out in a car is a certain degree of plucky fun-- something upbeat, capable, but not so damn serious all the time. Now, I don't expect everyone to have the same tastes as me, but there seems to be a growing homogenization in auto design to favor these cars that look like douchebags. The fact that the statement everyone wants to make by the vehicle they drive is one of intimidation and power seems like it's the symptom of something unpleasant going on in our culture.
Maybe someone smarter than me can shed some light on this; I know people want to seem successful and powerful, to some degree, so maybe that's it. I don't think this is the case in all cultures, as Japan seems full of cars so confusingly cute you want to spit. Cars form part of the constant background of our visual lives, so it's worth taking a look at them every now and then and seeing how they make you feel. Lately, when I look around a parking lot, it feels more like I've stumbled into a den of demented robot land-sharks. If I had it my way, the land sharks would still be there, but there'd be a good assortment of other faces out there, some of which would be looking like they just want to chug some 87 octane, go fast and have fun. Oh, and maybe get your ass to work on time.
Carrie McLaren & Jason Torchinsky are coeditors of _Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture_. In previous lives, they worked together on the hopelessly obscure and now defunct Stay Free! magazine. He lives in LA and writes for the Onio