- by Atul H. Patel, Editor-in-Chief
I believe there is a conspiracy in the automotive design industry. It’s one that inhibits us from practicing our counting skills and makes the world more generic. Every car company in the world has endorsed the number five. How??? ...by offering a preponderance of 5-spoke wheels and wheels with hardly any other number of spokes. I remember the good old days when car companies tried 3, 4, or 6 spoke wheels and people bought them and liked them. Then, our conservativism, (or is it our willingness to let other experts develop our opinions?), took over and we started shunning wheels with any number of spokes but 5. Sure 5-spokes are classic, but I think there were some great 4 spoke designs, one virtual 4-spoke courtesy of Giorgio Giugiaro, designer of the Isuzu Impulse which is still one of my favorite car designs of all time. Then Saab went through a phase with very unique and modern 3-spokers, leveraging a Viking shield theme. They looked good and modern. Saturn’s ION came out with only 4-spoke options except for the base steel wheels with hubcaps. But the auto buff mags jumped all over that car and the wheels too. (I personally liked the uplevel 16 inch 4 spoke wheels.) So, car aficionados everywhere jumped on the bandwagon helping to doom non-5-spokers for the foreseeable future. I think I’m not the only person who wants a unique car and unique wheel options.
There are only so many ways you can do 5 spoke wheels. You can split them and effectively make them 10-spokers, angle the spokes to make them unidirectional and you can curve the corners or sharpen them. But all-in-all, 5-spoke wheels are 5-spoke wheels and they make the wheels a non-differentiator to most people, except to the few of us who notice every little detail. To make differentiation matters worse, with increased focus on fuel efficiency, car designs are becoming more similar as their designs move towards the most aerodynamic shapes. At least we’ll get some variety when flat wheels/covers like on the Civic hybrid, which are more aerodynamic, make a comeback. Every tenth of a mile per gallon counts when gas is $4 per gallon and CAFE requirements are set to rise significantly.
Back to the wheels, I really don’t like this trend of moving to 10 or more spokes. The wheels don’t look as good, (more luxury than sport), and are a pain to clean if there is any brake dust on them. I love the 3-spoke wheels on my old Saab even more because they are easy to clean. I’ll end my rant to reiterate why I wrote this post. I want to tell the automotive world to be more bold again and try different numbers of spokes, but their success depends on the consumers’ and car fanatics’ openness to accept something different.