Monotony Motors

The energy crisis only made matters worse for designers when, in 1975, Congress introduced the first mandatory Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations that set mileage quotas for new automobiles. The easiest way to meet the mandate was to lower the drag coefficient on cars, and so began the automakers’ mad dash for the wind tunnel.

With only so many solutions to be expected from rounding off fenders and tilting windshields, stylists began producing cars that converged more and more on the same shape. Built less of steel and more of lighter plastic material, the new cars were smaller, more expensive, and less safe. (A 2007 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study estimated 250-500 deaths per year attributable to CAFE downsizing.)

“You had designers who were constrained and occupied with only one goal, and that was weight and miles per gallon,” says Sam Kazman, general counsel at the Competitive