Many of the greatest cars every built were designed principally by one person. As a car company, however, it is much easier to design by committee.
You get reliable results by handing the reins to a group, and you ensure cost efficiency by coordinating design teams with your factories and suppliers. The more groups you involve through the process, the easier it is to build a successful global car in today's marketplace.
The original Mini springs to mind as a perfect example why production efficiencies are sometimes best left aside. Sure the company that build the Mini went out of business, but this brainchild of Alec Issigonis, this little gem of a car remains an icon. It certainly bettered the lives of many people just by being an excellent vehicle.
Carmakers do and will continue to listen to focus groups for some time. We just wish the people that got put in focus groups were more like our commenters. While were discussing VW's push towards the USDM, we got an excellent little history lesson from west-coaster. If only more carmakers read Jalopnik.
"So, what we're doing is making sure our vehicles are now designed first and foremost with the U.S. customer requirements in mind,"
Uh-oh. Shades of the horrific Westmoreland, PA Rabbits.
Volkswagen decided in the late 1970s that it would be great to build cars in the U.S., getting a sweet deal on an old Chrysler plant. "Oh, and while we're at it, let's REALLY make the cars appealing to more American drivers."
Therein lay the problem. Lithe, nimble cars with firm seats and suspension turned into Yankee turds. The springs were softened, the seats became flat and covered in fabrics that looked like one of Liberace's bathrobes, and so much of the "European-ness" was then gone. Heck, the uplevel trim cars even had chintzy full wheel covers and whitewall tires. Whitewalls fer Christ's sake!
The 1983 GTI salvaged things somewhat, but mainstream Rabbits and Jettas continued on as essentially American compact cars (and then, American + small = bad) with VW badges on them.
I sincerely hope that current Volkswagen management can look back at this mistake and learn from it. The reason many people in the U.S. like to buy German cars is because they feel and behave differently than cars from other places. Make cruise control or whatever standard, fine. But don't turn your cars into corn-fed-Midwesterner-pleasing marshmallow-mobiles.
Photo Credit: Kenneth J Gill