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Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 01/11/2011

In Detroit, the art of hyping auto design

By Peter Whoriskey

DETROIT -- All the new car designs, as the hype at the North American International Auto Show would have it, are "sleek" or "dynamic" or "muscular."

Yet not everyone is so sure the new styling is so innovative.

A lot of the designs "are just pretty much tweaking the old metal," said Tom Matano, once the chief designer of Mazda, who worked on the Miata and RX-7s. "It's like they're just putting on eyelashes, and then some eye shadow, and then something else. It's superficial."

The current crop of designers labor under stringent safety regulations and fuel efficiency requirements that can rule out designs that don't perform well in wind tunnels.

Maybe that's why nothing these days seem as iconic as a Cadillac with tail fins.

But the chief designer at each of the Big Three automakers argued that iconic styling is happening today.

J Mays at Ford said the company's new SUV, the Vertrek, a rugged-looking concept vehicle, shows that innovative styling is possible. The vehicle was a finalist in the Eyes On Design award competition, which is awarded by a panel of esteemed auto designers.

Ed Wellburn from General Motors said the Buick LaCrosse is drawing attention for its flowing lines even in a competitive luxury-sedan segment.

And a slew of sporty cars are enjoying success by harkening back to their time-honored forerunners. Ralph Gilles at Chrysler gave the example of the Dodge Charger, which attempts to recall the glory days of the muscle car.

By Peter Whoriskey  | January 11, 2011; 10:00 PM ET
 
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