Why do modern cars all look alike?

Looking at cars while driving in heavy traffic might often cause a feeling of déjà vu.

Most modern vehicles tend to look more and more similar and there are a number of explanations for this resemblance.

“It is to a large degree dictated by safety,” said Hannes Oosthuizen, former editor of Car Magazine.

Because of recent governmental regulations, automakers are required to adhere to pedestrian safety regulations (PSR).

This means that the front-end of cars needed to evolve into a flatter and wider shape as to protect pedestrians in the event of a collision. This flat, wide shape helps to distribute the energy delivered to the human body as widely as possible.

“When it comes to aerodynamics, the designers and engineers have found ways to work around this, which is why you can now again have quite edgy cars with an upright grille or noses that still perform very well in wind tunnel testing,” said Oosthuizen.

New regulations also force cars to be more fuel efficient and to produce less carbon dioxide (CO2). This is achieved by designing more streamline and aerodynamic models, as this reduces drag.

So then, when a car has a wide and flat front-end, it needs a raised rear-end which ultimately gives the car a more aerodynamic, wedge-like shape. The Honda CR-Z is a good example of this.

Another explanation is that most of the big names in the industry own several other brands.

Volkswagen owns Audi, Bentley, and Porsche. General Motors makes Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Opels. Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo are all owned by Fiat. These automakers often share successful design features among the different brands in their stable, contributing to the similarities across the different brands.

The VW Touareg, Audi Q7, and Porsche Cayenne prove this point.

“Brand identity is a stronger driving force than ever before, and that’s why the companies work so hard to develop brand design languages,” said Oosthuizen.

These individual brands want their customers and the general public to recognise their product when they see it on the streets. They employ the generic ‘family-face’ across all their models as a way to stand out from the rest, but sometimes all end up looking the same.

“The result is that most BMWs look the same and most Audis look identical.”

With passenger- and pedestrian safety, fuel efficiency and lowered CO2-levels expected to remain top priorities for the foreseeable future, no ground-breaking designs are expected to appear any time soon.