The Chrysler 300 is an overwhelming success for Chrysler. Ford's Five Hundred wasn't nearly as big a hit despite on paper being a strong competitor. The Chrysler's advantage, of course, is bold design. The 300 has it, the Ford not so much. Automotive News even quotes an unnamed Ford exec saying the Five Hundred got a new look and a new name because, "it can't do any worse than it has been." Ouch. Ford CEO Alan Mulally himself is quoted saying the Five Hundred's original look "may have been too conservative." Ya think?
The Automotive News article points out that in the past, bold design in the mid-size sedan category was considered suicide. Take the third-gen Taurus. The car's iconic jelly-bean shape went oval and sales dived. Honda and Toyota have historically counted on their evolutionary design strategy to sell tons of Camrys and Accords. But, as the article says, even those two Japanese companies are seeing how some well-placed design cues may appeal to even conservative car buyers' emotions – if done well.
Continue reading after the jump.
[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]
Automotive News says Toyota saw Mazda's new 3 and Honda's new Civic and sent its next-gen Corolla back to the design shop for some dressing up. GM, possibly the all-time Sultan of Staid, has seen the light as well, and has a potentially huge hit on its hands with the new Malibu. That car's new design was directly influenced by Vice Chairman Bob Lutz after he saw what the company had planned for 2004. Automotive News recounts that car's development as told by Lutz and reveals a little about how things work at GM.
Since Automotive News is subscription only, we'll paraphrase that anecdote for you. Lutz saw the design for the 2004 Malibu and demanded to see what research led to its not-so-exciting design. At first Lutz is told the car "did great in the research," to which he expressed his incredulity and again insisted on seeing the research documents. Eventually he got the paperwork that showed the car tanked in focus groups. Lutz said, as quoted in AN, "The one on the Malibu was slightly less disastrous than the others, so he was correct when he told me, "It was the best clinic of any car we've had in the last five years.' "
And if you know anything at all about Bob Lutz, he will not stand for that kind of development, and so pushed for the Malibu you see now.
Better-looking mid-size sedans? Yes, please. We'll take as many as we can get.