I think one thing that many people overlook when they say, "Just have fans build it!" is that everything that goes into the game has to be built in specific ways. Ships more than most, as they are basically a character. They need to not only fit into a triangle count, and a material count, but they have to be split up into multiple parts, with pivots in specific locations for customization. They have to have all of their UVs set up in a way to work well with multiple different materials. They have to be set up with nodes for every phaser strip, blinky light, photon torpedo launcher, and tractor beam. They have to be named in specific ways, and a million other things I'm sure I don't know about since I'm not a ship artist.
The point being, making a ship for OUR game, is a much more involved process than just making a good looking model in Maya for renders.
All of that stuff makes it difficult to outsource. There are many iterations, many things need to be double, triple, octuple checked, and when something breaks, there needs to be someone to debug/fix it who knows what they're doing.
The models for Star Trek Bridge Commander are not simply renders for making hi-rez pictures. The same hardpointing, naming, and some of the "million other things" are also done in that game, as well as any other game that models are added to. (Which is pretty much any modern game).
If it's such a difficult process that takes too long for your artists to do in the short times they have, then give the community the tools they need to improve the look of the ships in this game. Hold a contest, offer ingame rewards, or whatever, to inspire and motivate people to give it a try. They win (prizes), Cryptic wins (better looking ships), players win (better gameplay experience). Win/Win/Win scenario.
I disagree with the original poster that STO's models are "terrible". In fact, I think some are incredibly detailed and the amount of modification they have made based on player feedback is astounding.
"Incredibly detailed" doesn't describe some of the clearly obvious ship errors, for example on the Sovereign, as shown in the first post.
Sure, "terrible" is up to debate, but "sloppy", in some of these cases, is not.