Some cars blaze across the automotive stage like supermodels wearing the latest designer clothes. But when red-hot sales cool, as they have with the retro-styled Volkswagen New Beetle and Chrysler PT Cruiser, automakers are left with a problem.
The usual rules of design freshening - from nose jobs to rear-end redos - don't apply to retro- or heritage-styled vehicles, whose shape is reason for their existence. There's almost no way to bend the sheet metal on a retro-style car and keep it true to the original.
So what can designers do to keep interest high? The Mazda Miata, which enters its 13th year of production with only one facelift, provides some clues. With sales of more than 600,000 worldwide since the start of production, Mazda says, the Miata last year surpassed British Leyland's 1962-80 MGB as the most popular two-seat roadster ever built.
Yearly sales have remained steady at about 47,000 units worldwide, says Mazda, even though Mazda has not tinkered much with the Miata's 1960s design influenced by the Lotus Elan, Triumph Spitfire and Austin Healey Sprite. Yearly limited-production models with luxury trim, added performance, more features and greater comfort have been instrumental in maintaining the Miata's appeal.