I’ve done this a couple of times before, but I never seem to get tired of doing it: getting pictures of cars at the auto show and averaging them together to get a sense of what the average car looks like. The results always have a strangely impressionistic look, but they almost never fail to look really, really average. Because that’s exactly what they are.

This year, I had our photographer, Jacqui, get as many head-on images of cars as she could, from as big a variety of cars as possible. This year I had her grab some SUV images as well, since I’m told those might be somewhat popular?

These cars and SUVs are from manufacturers in America, Japan, Germany, Korea, Italy, Sweden, and cover the most common carmakers you’re likely to see. They’re all the most recent models, so we can get a sense of where automotive design is heading.

Let’s start with the mean of the images, which is essentially an average of how all the cars look:


And for comparison, here’s the mean image of car fronts from the January 2017 Detroit Auto Show, almost a year ago:

I think we’re seeing some taller, blunter front ends, and a bit more variety in headlamp design. Upper grilles and air intakes may be shrinking a bit, on average, and getting a bit wider, too.


Let’s try the median now, which is less about averaging everything and more about finding what’s common in the mathematical ‘middle’ of the images:

And again, here’s what we saw this past January:


Again, I think we’re seeing a bit more horizontal emphasis than a year ago, and a more prominent dividing central bumper. It could be just the predilections of the two data sets, but that’s how it seems to me.

I have an average, mean composite from 2014, too:


I think in the past three or so years, grille and front air intake area has definitely gotten larger on both axes, at first in height, and now in width. Perhaps we’ll see a return to full-width grille front-ends soon?

This year, I got separate SUV images, so let’s see what we get there. Let’s start with the mean:


Yep, that absolutely looks like a boring, average SUV. I feel like you could slap almost any badge in the middle of that grille and it would look basically fine. Well, maybe not Jeep.

Let’s see if the median of the images changes anything:


Not really! We have all the traits of modern SUVs right here: big grille, vaugely rectilinear/upward-angled wraparound headlamp units, blacked out lower valences with more intakes, and a general sense of bulk.

These average images show some clear industry-wide trends: increased emphasis on width, near-ubiquitous inverted trapezoid lower air intakes, and, in a nice change of pace, some more variety in lighting design than perhaps we’ve had in a while.

Also interesting and baffling to me is that this year, as in past years, the car’s colors seem to average out into reddish/maroon hues. This year’s car went a bit more brown/orange, but still in the warm reddish family.


I hope these help your various research projects.