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The polarizing design of the Nissan Cube has not led to... The polarizing design of the Nissan Cube has not led to strong sales (Nissan).
Walk through any auto show these days and chances are you will find an odd looking car or truck that you think: "Wow ... interesting, though I can't imagine actually buying one of those."

Some of those cars, trucks and SUVs exist just as "design exercises," so that car companies can float trial balloons to see how the public will react to a new idea. But sometimes the feedback actually pushes auto companies to build an odd design.

History shows time and again, though, that auto companies would do better to stay within the lines of convention. Not that they should churn out boring cars and trucks year after year. But they might save themselves a lot of money if they were better at tossing out the ideas that push the envelope too far.

The Nissan Cube is one such vehicle. Square as a breadbox, and with a side-hinged rear hatchback door and oval rear window, the car sold just 22,968 last year, and 8,677 so far this year through April. Honda is discontinuing the similarly squarish Element, which sold 67,478 at its height in 2004, but fell to below 14,000 last year, not enough to keep it going or justify a redesign.

The Hummer H2, which seemed to appeal to a military wannabee crowd of drivers in denial about eventual $4.00 per gallon gas looked like an SUV so audacious it would never be built -- only it was. The Hummer military vehicle was made popular in the first Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm. Arnold Schwarzenegger's interest in a "street-legal" Hummer led to the $100,000 Hummer H1 being offered to consumers. Then, GM, which bought the right to develop street-legal vehicles under the Hummer brand name, saw the demand for a Hummer H2 that could priced at half that, and the Hummer H2 was born. GM sold it for seven years, with its high water mark coming in 2004 when it sold 34,529. In all, GM sold 152,939 Hummer H2s. But, obnoxious and menacing looking, and getting about 9 mpg, the hulking SUV became, as one GM executive put it, "The poster-child for global warming." The Hummer brand had become so toxic by 2009 that GM couldn't find a buyer for the brand and instead shut it down.

Ford, known for the car that is synonymous with design failure -- the Edsel -- struck again in 2002 with a luxury pickup truck called the Lincoln Blackwood. The pin-stripe paint-job and glitch-ridden automatic retracting bed cover created a design package so objectionable to most buyers that it might have been better called Edsel II, or Albatross. Lincoln sold just 3,356 Blackwoods in one model year.

Ford designer Joel Piaskowski says polarizing design can be a blessing and a curse. Even if some people fall in love with a design, they may be hesitant to purchase it because they are worried about resale values. Car designers can't take as many risks as fashion designers, because car buyers tend to be more conservative.

"You're dealing with dollars and cents," he says. "Clothes cost pennies compared with cars. That's the same reason you don't see radical home design."

Hyundai is testing the waters with a new and curious design called the Veloster, a three-door crossover SUV. Three-door? Technically, it might be called a four-door, since it has rear hatchback door. But what makes one want to call it a three-door is that it appears to be a door-door coupe, but it actually has a third door on the passenger side that opens for greater access to a very cramped backseat. Cars with unconventional third doors, such as the MINI Clubman and Saturn Ion coupe have never been big sellers.

"The reaction to the Veloster has been tremendous since we first showed it," says Hyundai Motors America CEO John Krafcik. "The younger buyers we feel will be very attracted to it aren't at all limited in their thinking of how a car should be or can be designed."

Larry Erickson, a design professor at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, says it's hard to tell if some more radical designs are duds, because the automakers still may have made money on small batches of the cars.

Radical design often sparks an emotional response in buyers, and people who want the car really, really want it. So they are more willing to pay higher prices, at least at first. "They may want it more than anyone else," he says.

One of the most infamously ugly and criticized vehicles of the last quarter century was the Pontiac Aztek, an SUV GM built. The company, though, tried to save money by building it atop the engineering platform that had been used on the automaker's very unsuccessful line of minivans. The Aztek's design proportions were awkward and uneven, prompting comparisons with lunar landing vehicles. The enormous back-end of the SUV was especially off-putting, giving the whole vehicle a kind of bad Tonka-toy look.

About the Honda Element, says Erickson, "It gave Honda something different; showed people that Honda sees itself as a different kind of car company. Things like the Element make sure you know that." On the Nissan Cube, he says, "I don't know how the Cube is selling, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good thing to do."

AOL Autos has assembled a gallery of vehicles famous and infamous for their odd and risky design. Leave us comments on what you think of them. Would you buy one? Did you? if you actually bought one, tell us why and what you think of your purchase.

View Gallery: Odd Looking Cars


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  • 487 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      Bulls""t!! I have a Cube and LOVE it.Tons of room and great on gas.Everywhere I go people come over to look at it and say they love it.One couple bought one after looking at mine.It is NOT square,it has rounded edges.Oh I forgot My husband is 6 feet 4 and has plenty of leg room!
      edgarlongenecker
      • 3 Years Ago
      Producing hideous looking products, is obviously a psyche thing; proving that idiots will buy anything... [that, other idiots, are dumb enough to dream up... The "Cube," and, even the name, is proof enough... Let's see them, lie their way, out of this... Edgrrr...
      rlau290541
      • 3 Years Ago
      A big part of the pleasure of driving is enjoying the style of the car you own. How anyone can enjoy driving a "Toster on wheels" is beyond me.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just wanted to let you know that I saved a TON of money finding an insurance company through this website: ( http://tinyurl.com/YourCarInsuranceQuotes ). I found one that saved me 57.5% on my premium - pretty amazing if you ask me.
      • 3 Years Ago
      We own 2 Elements and love them. Why did we buy them? Because my husband, who is 6'3", is all torso, and the Element is one of the few cars he can sit upright in without his head touching the roof of the car. Square cars -- whether the Element, Cube, Scion or even mini-Cooper, provide much more "butt-to-head" room than standard sedans. Prior to buying his Element, my husband contacted a number of his similarly built male friends -- they all had Elements. We are disappointed that Honda is discontinuing the line. My husband just hit 100,000 miles on his today. It's a wonderful car, with capacious room in the rear seat. We hope that Honda or somebody comes out with a good design for those other long-torsoed drivers.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I own a Nissan Cube in this wonderful brick red and black trim. It's a beautiful jewel of a car. You want to know the truth about American aesthetics? Often when I drive my car around and meet the eyes of other drivers, the women in these cars smile whereas the men try to look disinterested. I drive my red beauty in a sea of scared, over-masculine, insecure males who choose the gunmetal gray, black, and tan cars so they can hide among their conformist brethren. So much for American ingenuity. It still comes from abroad it seems. America's forefront thinking is gone to China and elsewhere. Ha ha, but the women know better......
      Howard DuBois
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow the CUBE is a great little car with a big car attitude. Just came back from vacation in our CUBE and loved it rode as well or beter than the van we rented last year or the full sized car we rented the year before. As for the looks is is one of a kind and we are not ashamed to be seen in it. By the way we are older Americans not youths. Love the car and hope to see them around for a long time. TRY IT YOU'LL LIKE IT.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The cube and scion vehicles are so awful looking. The Element I thought looked awful to when I fist saw it but I guess over the years I got used to them, not that I would ever buy one. I would drive anything if it was given to me though.
      • 3 Years Ago
      fdgdg
      • 3 Years Ago
      A clown company has one of those square jobs as a Clown Car and that fits the look perfectly. Beyond that...ugly, ugly, ugly. As far as Hummers go....buyers are fools. Do they think they are buying the Hummer of the military? Was told by off roaders they are the biggest piece of 'dirt' when tried as off road vehicles. They look stupid on the highway and can't do off road...so ....what are they for but someone's inflated ego. You can put the Cadillac and Lexus 4x4s in the same class. They are just pricey highway vehicles.
        skeeter319902
        • 3 Years Ago
        What does it matter to you if a car is ugly? It's their business whether they like the car or not. All I care is that they don't complain about the cost of maintenance, etc.
        • 3 Years Ago
        but the yuppies love them. they don't care as long as they look good LOL
      RYAN
      • 3 Years Ago
      I see those around from time to time and I wonder who sees the beauty in them.For some its just the size thing I guess,maybe the like small cars or something.Personally I dont get it but thats what makes the world go around.I bet that cube would be a good car to drive on a 300 mile trip if it was only 2 people,or even 1......as for me,I just cant do it.Im more of a 4 door mid sized car guy....Ive got a passat,terrible mpgs in that thing but I like it anyway.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I purchased my cube in 2009. I love the car, the room inside is great; it’s like driving a pickup truck or an old 4x4. I had a few recalls done but great gas mileage. In NYC parking is always a problem too, and the Cube is so short. I want from a Dodge Grand Caravan to the cube please i drive a 66 muscle car on weekends
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