Why don’t more cars look like this?

Two Nissan Figaros on a Radlett forecourtA promotional pic from the Figaro's launch in 1991

Saw the two Nissan Figaros in the top pic on a forecourt round the corner – someone’s obviously developing a specialism. Why, meanwhile, in the ocean of car choice, is there so little real variation? The design vocabulary of cars is so restricted and advances so slowly. What are the keywords on the mood boards at the car designers these days: sexy, aggressive, practical, safe, sporty, flexible, successful, family, active, fun? Other designed goods have a much wider vocabulary – what’s wrong with: ‘eccentric, cheeky, brassy, edgy, funny, baroque, playful, green, chintzy, daft, alternative’? Why are clever cars like the 1991 Figaro stuck in a sort of experimental ghetto? Are we so inflexible, so blinded by decades of auto engineering convention that we can’t imagine ourselves in something new?

Ivan points out that what we actually like about cars might be different from what we tell the manufacturers in those focus groups – for instance, in the latest brilliant Peugeot 407 ad, the car I really want is the oversize wooden baby toy and not the very dull 407 itself.


  1. Have you seen that advert where everyone is driving toy cars in a city. It’s supposed to make the car being advertised look ‘real’, but actually makes it look boring as fuck.

  2. I’ve been meaning to post about the joy of the Figaro since I saw one on our street in Islington a few months ago. They’re lovely little things, and you’re right; more cars should have the quirkiness (and niche-ness, such as city-orientation) of these, Minis, Beetles and the other things that break up the flow of tedious four-wheel-drives and standard saloons.

  3. Hackney is littered with little Figaro’s struggling to get over the mountainous speed bumps we have around the place. There are two next to each other on Victoria Park Road (his and hers, maybe) and another one less than 100 yards away on the other side of lauriston Road. My wife would like one but as I point out to her there’s no where to put her parents in it. They cost around 6.5K and seem like a cheapish way of getting an open top motor. They even had one for sale at rude Mercs on Cambridge Heath Road.

    I like the second picture you’ve got – it looks like the Las Vegas strip. Has Radlett changed that much?

  4. The Figaro is just one of the many ‘niche’ cars which get launched in Japan but which never make it over here. Nissan did the SCargo (which was a van that looked like a snail, geddit?) at the same time as the Figaro. You see them around as grey imports every now and then. And I’m a big fan of the Honda Element which you can get in the US and Japan but not here. A kind of A Team van for the 21st century. Most Japanese manufacturers just assume they won’t sell enough of these things to make it worthwhile in Europe – especially because if people want them badly enough they’ll get them as private imports, given the high availability of good second hand cars from Japan.

  5. Dear Paris, yes, Radlett has changed a little since your last visit, and clearly for the better, much more action on the strip, especially near the green grocers and WH Smith.

    I still remain unconvinced by the Figaro, which, never mind fitting the in-laws in, clearly has hardly any room for the lovely lady of the night so generously plying her wares outside Budgens in the High Street. A message to all those lovely Radlett chaps out there – you can get more ho’s in a Hummer,

  6. I completely agree about the new 407 ad. To me it totally fails to work. During the ad all I’m waiting for is another glimpse at some individualistic, expressive design. And by the end of the advert you are being presented with a very dull instantly forgettable car.
    On the Figaro design front, the Daihatsu Copen comes close to reliving individual car design but it takes from the Figaro in many ways just as the New Micra convertible the “Micra C+C” does too. Its out in this country next year.

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