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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Does Your Car Smile at You?

1961 Cadillac De Ville. Tell me this car doesn't have personality.

2015 Mazda with its smiling "happy face."
No, it wasn't designed by the folks at Disney.
It's no secret animals have personalities much the same as human beings. They have emotions. They feel pain; they feel pleasure, fear, anger, joy, hunger, thirst, even sexual desires. A personality is that which causes man or beast to consistently react in a given way to a given set of circumstances. Having said that, I've long held that things such as cars, computers, and other forms of mechanical or electrical higher intelligence also have personalities. Often we become so accustomed to these various personality quirks that we're hardly aware of them until we have an occasion to work with one of their close relatives. I notice such things whenever I've switched from my desktop computer to my wife's. In large part these personalities are a reflection of the user's needs and personalities. The same goes for automobiles. I like my 2009 Prius. It likes me. Like all personal relationships those feelings are not the same one-hundred percent of the time, but far more often than not. There's a word for this, though applying it to various forms of hardware may stretch the definition. It's called anthropomorphism. One example is when we look at some object or group of objects and notice the presence of an imaginary face. Disney Studios owe virtually their entire existence to anthropomorphism--Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and on a mechanical level, a whole town full of Cars (below).
The gang from Disney's 2006 movie, Cars--ten different personalities.
The rather "dippy" looking amphibian.
An individual's personality and mood can often be read in their face. Cars have faces too, as even a passing glance at the art of the Disney animators reveals. Sometimes we can see a car's personality, rendered by the automotive designer in the vehicle's body language, as demonstrated by the sharply honed sheet metal of the 1961 Cadillac De Ville (top). The front of the automobile, has come to represent the vehicle's face; and automotive designers, almost as far back as Henry Ford himself, have enjoyed anthropomorphizing their creations, sometimes purposefully, sometimes inadvertently (as with Ford's Edsel), and more recently, quite blandly. Let's face it, if cars today have personality, if they seem to have faces, they're invariably a far cry from what we've seen in the past. Sometimes those faces were ambiguous, mysterious, funny, innocent, sweet, aggressive, angry, or simply strange, but they were undeniably present, nonetheless.

1950 For Crestliner
1959 Chevrolet Impala
Remember, the 1950 Fort Crestliner (above, left), or the 1959 Chevrolet Impala (above, right)? The Ford always struck me as a toddler with a pacifier in its mouth. The Chevy, my dad once referred to as looking like a "squint-eyed Japanese" (his words, not mine). Whatever you may think of cars, or the way they look, it's hard to resist assigning them human attributes. Alas, those were the days...

What are YOU grinnin' about?
Oh, I see. Yeah, she is kinda cute.
(The eyelashes are fake.)
Okay, before we drown in nostalgia, I don't think there are many who would disagree that cars from the last few decades have grown to be blander and blander. They may, like my Prius, still have personalities, but they don't tend to reveal their feelings on their "faces" or through their body language, unless you're fond of "jelly beans." Designers and engineers have, in large part, honed their arts and crafts to such a refined degree as to ordain one "best" shape and look for today's road vehicles. From that point, you'd think they were all churned out in identical factories (irony intended).

Ferrari Aliante concept car. Even for Ferrari it's pretty radical.
Despite this pragmatic sameness, there are still a few exceptions, where designers have purposefully imposed faces and "personalities" upon their progeny in an attempt to make them attractive to a certain group of buyers. The Ferrari Aliante concept car (above) is a perfect example. Still more obvious is the Darth Vader look of the Lexus LF NX concept car (below) obviously borrowed (or stolen) from Star Wars.

Lexus LF NX concept car--son of Darth Vader. You can almost hear it breathe.
Ahh, isn't that sweet...


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