Nissan’s new Titan pickup coming this fall borrows so much from the Ford F-150 style guide that Nissan could change the Titan’s name to N-150. You can see the F-150 influence all over the Titan, from the shape of the Titan’s chamfered headlights to the dogleg on the forward edge of the front door windows to the horizontal bars on the grille. So far, Ford has not said much publicly about Nissan pirating the F-150’s design DNA.
Designers tell me that, thanks to new technology in lighting and materials, they have never had more freedom to create new shapes. Designers are among the most creative people you’ll ever meet, and they thrive on original, breakthrough designs. Copying others is not something that ensures a long career in such a competitive industry.
“With intense international competition and the massive costs involved, any risk in radical design deviation is all too rarely considered,” said Dick Nesbitt, a former Ford designer who worked on the Mustang II and many of the automaker’s other vehicles in the 1970s. “Options available to designers today are absolutely superior compared with what was available in the ‘dark ages’ or mid-seventies.”
Massive bumpers, lots of chrome and round sealed beam headlights, he said, had many cars in the 1970s looking alike. But it doesn’t have to be that way today.
It’s okay for a brand’s own classic design cues to evolve. That’s what Cadillac has done on its latest models. If you recall the bladelike taillights on the 1968 El Dorado, then you will see the modern interpretation on the 2015 Escalade.
But I think the toughest assignment in the auto industry is creating a new design language for a brand that resonates with consumers and doesn’t rip off anything that came before.
On that count, the new Continental failed in New York — not just because of its Bentley-esque styling but also the faux Jaguar-Kia grille. And Cadillac succeeds with the CT6 because the car looks great and borrows from nobody.
Nesbitt, author of 50 Years of American Automobile Design: 1930-1980, said: “I envy the many incredible options [designers have] available today, even with the ever-increasing regulations burden.”