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.

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Five student wheels worth considering

You’re a Stellies student and you’re considering a new car, you want to stand out but not break the bank. This year offers some enticing new models and below is a list that is both budget-friendly, yet still trendsetting.

The cars listed here are all priced below the crucial R200k price bracket, which makes them worth considering whether you’re a student or a working city-slicker.

They were mainly chosen based on price, as this is a big deciding factor. Features of the car were also considered as well as safety and reliability.

In alphabetical order, they are;

  • Citroen C1 – This boutique city-car is fresh off the boat and features funky styling; like the split headlights, LED-accents and tinted-glass boot lid. It’s also the most fuel-efficient car in this list. If you decide on the priciest model, the Airscape, you’ll get a folding fabric roof – neat! The C1 comes standard with a 7-inch touch-screen as well as six airbags.

“I like that my [C1] can accelerate fast, but the air-conditioner’s circulation is quite bad,” says Christine Collett, a final-year BA Social Work student.

  • Fiat Panda – Often ignored because of its prettier sister, the Fiat 500, the Panda is cheaper and definitely more spacious. With five doors instead of three, you can easily pack in more friends. Its tiny engine means it’s very fuel-efficient. The Panda comes standard with all the tech any student demands, including an adorable name.

“I love that [the Panda] is cute and reliable, never had a problem with it,” says Claire Atkinson, a final-year B.Com student.

  • Honda Brio – The Brio offers a punchy engine and reliability your dad would be proud of. Featuring the most powerful engine in this list, the Brio offers pace for not a lot of dosh. It’s also offered with the essential tech, making it a sensible buy. Just pick the black interior and not the fading beige colour that comes as standard.

“It’s so [fuel] efficient and really has power for its size, I love it,” says Clarice Coetzee, a BA Politics student, about her Brio.

  • Smart ForFour – Having just gone on sale in South Africa, this Smart is a must-have for any respectable trendsetter. With its two-tone paint-work it’s sure to turn more than a few heads. Surprisingly affordable, this city runabout is rear-engined as well as rear-wheel drive, like some sports cars. Pick the priciest model and you get niceties like touch-screen infotainment, cruise control and LED accents in the headlights.
  • Suzuki Celerio – This Japanese tot comes with all the toys you need; six airbags, electronic stability programme [ESP], Bluetooth, electric windows, etc. The boxy shape of the Celerio means it’s got lots of space inside – loading up your mates won’t be a hassle.

“The boot is nice and big, but [the Celerio] struggles when it’s fully loaded,” says Antoinette Mills, a Stellenbosch resident.

According to the National Association of Automotive Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa), the December 2015 sales figure for these five cars combined was only 302 units. Which is only 0.9% of the entire passenger car sales figure for the same period.