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So, are buyers condemned to a future of cookie-cutter cars? Probably not. There are changes afoot that point to more differentiated design in the future.

Design studio advances, such as computerized modeling, have cut the cost and time it takes to develop new cars. At the same time, the market is fragmenting into more categories — small, midsize and large SUVs, for example — which gives automakers room to experiment because they’re not depending on one model for blockbuster sales.

New technology under the hood, such as electrification, could radically change designs because designers won’t have to make room for cumbersome gas engines.

But the biggest change, experts say, is that the quality of cars has gotten so good that design is one of the only ways a car company can distinguish itself.

“Car companies are being challenged to do interesting designs, and more of them,” Mr. Molnar said.