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Is the Retro Design Trend Dead?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, you simply could not escape retro-themed cars. The Volkswagen New Beetle. The Chevrolet HHR. The 2005 Ford Mustang. The Mini Cooper. The Ford GT. The Chevrolet Camaro. The Dodge Challenger. The Fiat 500. Back then, it seemed like basically any brand that had a “cool” vehicle in its past was suddenly resurrecting this cool vehicle to offer a new, retro-themed design.

That lasted for about a decade, or maybe a little more, but now it seems to be over. Have you noticed this as well? Pretty much every new vehicle has a modern, forward-looking design — and the days of retro-styled cars seem to have come to an end.

There are, of course, still some retro cars on the market: the Fiat 500, the Camaro and the Mustang come to mind. But sales of the 500 have slowed considerably — as is also true of the Mini Cooper. And while the Camaro and the Mustang still use retro-themed designs, they’re evolving to the point where the old-school, retro look they initially had is starting to be designed out. The latest Camaro, for instance, looks a lot different from the 2009 model that resurrected the brand with a retro design.

Many other retro models have been outright canceled: the Ford Thunderbird is gone, and the Chrysler PT Cruiser is, too. Same with the Chevy HHR. And the New Beetle, later renamed the Beetle, seems to be on its last legs. The Ford GT, a retro-themed car in the 2000s, was revived as a totally modern sports car with new technology, eschewing the “retro thing” entirely.

In fact, of all the retro cars, it seems only the Dodge Challenger is still really alive and kicking, still bringing in sales without many exterior changes. Everything else is gone, changing, or going away soon.

Which makes me wonder: is the retro thing dead? We had a good run of retro cars, but has it finally died off? I’m not suggesting I wish for it to die off, or that I’m excited it’s gone — but I do think it appears “retro” is gone, and cars are now moving towards a more modern look, not reviving old designs as much as creating new ones. In fact, I think that some modern cars — the Kia Soul comes to mind — will have “retro” versions created of them in 50 years, when cars are driving themselves and powered by alternative fuels, and “retro” once again becomes popular. But for now, it seems like retro is dead.

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  1. Retro is not dead. It is still alive, but slowly fading away. Retro 70’s and 80’s would me nice, moving along in the decades.

  2. Just wondering, if that might have something to do with the recent climate panic and all the talk about how dirty old cars are?

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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