Designed to Sell
“In auto sales, appearance is everything….”
Herbert Brean, Life magazine 1954
Fanciful fins, gleaming chrome, and the allure of color called consumers to change old models for new. Manufacturers relied on styling to increase sales of cars and major appliances. General Motors created the annual model change in the 1920s and introduced the idea of design obsolescence as a business strategy. Industrial designers played an important role, updating styling and improving functionality.
In the 1960s, Americans debated design obsolescence. The auto industry contended that model changes appealed to consumers’ desire for status and innovation. Journalist Vance Packard criticized them as wasteful. Cost-conscious consumers began to question the necessity of chrome flourishes and big cars, especially as fuel prices rose in the 1970s.