By on January 23, 2017

1

Car shows take Vellum Venom down a psychotropic styling journey: elaborate displays with brilliant interior design elements, dazzling lighting, stunning product specialists (if you’re into that gawking thing), free top-shelf crap everywhere and perfect machinery refreshed by an army of detailers. Many years passed since my last auto show, but I had to come back to get the latest bits of car design. And interior design. And architecture.

Those three in mind, the Hyundai section was a remarkable letdown: the architecture brilliantly absorbed Cobo Center’s impressive amounts of negative area, marred by the mediocrity of a bland-toned Accent occupying prime real estate. Why ruin my Architectural-Digest worthy photograph?

2

Michelin picked up the fumble for a touchdown via two Singer 911s, one grabbing Cobo’s aforementioned negative area. Not that I have a beef with the Accent (I enjoyed its Mexican Dodge predecessor), but it shouldn’t get a front row seat to the show. 

But this story isn’t an extension of Vellum Venom’s dealership design series. Let’s get to the metal.

Chevrolet Traverse Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

The new Chevy Traverse shows how far TWO design elements percolated into the mainstream. 

Chevrolet Traverse Rear Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

First: rear bumpers that protect nothing. Better keep full coverage insurance, otherwise you’ll “enjoy” replacing that tailgate after backing into a pole!

Chevrolet Traverse Easter Egg Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

And Easter Eggs: how I loathe a poorly integrated branding element. Study the MKV Jetta headlight Easter Egg when you want inspiration for a good one. 

Volkswagen Atlas Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Speaking of the Vee-Dub brand, the new Atlas SUV was panned for a “boring” front end. To the contrary, it’s well organized, subtle and refined. Dignity!  

Volkswagen Atlas Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Plus its rear bumper might protect the hatchback when backing into a pole!

GMC Terrain Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Speaking of no protection, you better hope China repops (and eBay re-sells) replacement obnoxious grilles for the new GMC Terrain in a hurry, ’cause that sucker is large and in charge of everything! 

GMC Terrain Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

The exaggerated facial expressions tone themselves down from the side. There’s a clear taper from headlight to grille, with a shared vanishing point. DLO FAIL aside, there’s kinetic energy in the harmony of these jagged lines to make one feel this is indeed a premium CUV.

Jeep Compass Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

And the other end of the CUV spectrum? The new Compass’ lines sport a coherence and a bulk-free schnoz that pleases the vellum.

Jeep Compass Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

It’s obviously a Jeep, but with a thoroughly modern CUV shape and slim bumpers ready to crawl some serious inclines … even if the running gear isn’t up to snuff for the purists.

Toyota Camry Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Is there such thing as a Camry purist? If so, they’ve been disappointed since the late 1990s. Now the perennial top dog jumped the styling shark, giving CUVs ample reason to dominate the sales charts. The train-wreck of the last mid cycle refresh isn’t history, as it returned with a half-baked, over-compensating vengeance.

There’s more Camry shame to come in a future Vellum Venom.

Toyota Highlander Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Oh Toyota, its like you secretly want the Camry to fail. The Highlander’s elegant organization is missing from all trim levels of its Camry cousin. Bask in the continuity! 

VL Motors Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Well so much for continuity, credit to the Force 1 from VLF Automotive. Sometimes an artist needs to know when to stop painting. (Less speed holes, more headlight aperture.) But hey, it’s nice to see Henrik Fisker’s still making custom rides from high-end machinery.

VL Motors Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Oh no, the four spoke wheels! Precisely what my Transportation Design teachers loathed, and taught me to loathe! Nothing slows down a design like spokes that meet at a 90 degree angle. While the spokes bend in at the center, it’s still a super static look.

Nissan Rogue Sport Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

The Force 1 could learn a thing or six from the new Nissan Quashqai Cash-Cow Rogue Sport. Talk about design continuity! Hard edges and straight lines balancing out soft curves, just the right number of vanishing points, and slight duckface/puckering on the fascia (taper from outside toward the centerline) should be all the hotness for the selfie generation.

Nissan Rogue Sport Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

The emblem within the radar cruise control thingie (let’s call it a “front fascia window feature” as the tech stuff isn’t relevant when you’re talking styling) is surprisingly well rendered, giving a deep 3D effect for an affordable-ish vehicle.

Hyundai Grille Emblem Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Because this is what you’d expect at a non-luxury car price: cheap and flat on the Hyundai Ioniq.

Cadillac Grille Emblem Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Or perhaps at a luxury price too? The redesigned Cadillac crest (with artificial depth shadowing) looks even more shameful when it’s a flat “front fascia window feature.”

Time to bring back a proper wreath and crest, because this turkey’s gotta go.

BMW 5 series Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Who you callin’ a turkey? Look at my Botox injected lips (i.e. the kidney grille’s frames) and my unfortunately integrated “front fascia window feature.” Here are some home remedies you should try on your new BMW 5 Series. 

Fiat Abarth logo Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Speaking of puffy and overwrought, how are these layers better than a flat Abarth emblem?

Fiat Abarth logo Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

And it’s a big emblem, too. Small cars deserve small emblems, please.

Jeep Retro Concept Wrangler Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

This Jeep throwback has all the right moves.

*relaxing sigh*

We really did proportion vehicles better back when there were no computers to give us the unnecessary freedom to make whatever the heck we wanted! 

Lexus LS Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

*grunting*

Time to tense up: meet the new Lexus LS.

The avant-garde, nearly abstract expressionism design language (a.k.a. L-Finesse) is eye-catching in a Jackson Pollock kinda way. The grille’s distorted geometric shapes beg for attention, but stretching that shape over the lower bumper is more like a girdle working overtime. Perhaps that’s a picture not worth painting. 

Lexus LS Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

If the steep angles are any indication, the headlight’s vanishing point is probably a black hole. Definitely a bit much for a flagship sedan.

Lexus LS Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

The new window-intensive C-pillar gives a softer, near luxury look reminiscent of a first-gen Hyundai Azera. It’s a harsh assessment, but going less fuddy-duddy doesn’t work if you’re from the land of SLABs. At least the rear’s subtle Bangle-butt is acceptable while the taillight’s vanishing point translates nicely into a flat spot in the quarter panel for better aerodynamics.

Buick LaCrosse Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

Spend enough time walking the show floor and the harmonious lines of the new Buick LaCrosse suck you in, almost making it heir apparent to the last-gen Lexus LS.

Buick LaCrosse Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

This ride wears the same Lexus styling elements but looks smoother and happier in its skin.

Call it a Buick Electra or Park Avenue and you’d have a winner in the American South. Slab swangin’, baby!

Volkswagen ID Concept Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars 2017

Speaking of happy, look at that (aluminum?) smile on this VW concept! This might be the best interpretation of the VW Type 2 for a concept vehicle, mostly because it’s a brilliant combination of new design language (eyebrow lights, oversized emblems, CUV worthy butchness in the bumpers, etc) and the classic (dare I say iconic?) look of the original.

This vehicle could usher a new era of VW products, engineering and corporate culture — and that smile will lead the charge!

Volkswagen ID Concept Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

The aluminum “smile” has depth, highlights the fascia’s taper and separates transitions (hood to A-pillar) without offending the body’s lower half.

Volkswagen ID Concept Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

While not as elegant as a Chrysler minivan’s (dare I say iconic?) integrated door runner within the window belt-line design, this certainly works. Viva German Engineering if this makes production!

Mercedes S-class Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

A nice matte finish paint job and the original high quality “front fascia window feature” (that all others are judged by) are present on this flagship Mercedes-Benz. How can you top all this?

Mercedes Night Edition Emblem Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

Not with a cornball designation worthy of a ’90s-era monochrome truck. It’s not merely uncreative, it’s downright down-market compared to the vehicle saddled with this emblem.

Kia Stinger Detroit Auto Show, Image KIA Motors

I couldn’t get a decent shot of this upcoming beauty (Kia Stinger GT) but it’s the business from any angle: muscular rear-wheel-drive proportions with a smattering of design cues reminiscent of what put the GEN III Optima (2010-2015) on the design map.

Kia’s Tiger Nose works anywhere! And how! 

Trumpchi Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

This Chinese automaker is gonna be yuge I tell you. 

While the Trumpchi sedan’s appearance (especially the interior) is one or two generations behind the class leaders, the price (trade war notwithstanding) could easily justify both the name and the look.

Volvo V90 Detroit Auto Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

Any good autoblogger, especially the guy that started the whole autojournos-love-brown-cars thing, must end with a brown station wagon. Volvo did us proud with the modest yet muscularly-toned V90. Tasty.

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77 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2017 North American International Auto Show (Part I)...”


  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    That Accent hatchback looks -really- old, and they need to do something about that pronto. It doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the Hyundai lineup, and could easily be an ’08 model.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Actually, I kinda dig the Accent hatch (considered one last year). Its’ best angle is from the back. Drove a “Sport” (haha) with a manual, and the drive was respectable, if indistinguished.

      And it’s a good little transportation module (my S.O. has a 2013 sedan).

      But, yeah, it’s time for a new one.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      This Accent came out as a 2012, and we will see a new Accent soon (it’s already been revealed in South Korea).

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      This was the first year in a while that un-redesigned models really looked their age. I don’t know that I like many of the newer vehicles, but the 2010-2015 generation cars all seemed stale.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The most interesting design in all this was…the Lexus LS. Like Sajeev said…perhaps it wasn’t a picture worth painting, but damned if people aren’t talking about this car. Now, how long has it been since anyone talked about a Lexus LS?

    Same thing goes for the Camry.

    We’ll see how this plays out on the lot.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Call it a Buick Electra or Park Avenue and you’d have a winner in the American South.

    Yes, let’s use some heritage names! I know the Regal hasn’t actually been flying off the showroom floor but at least people recognize the name.

    V90 – from that angle it reminds me of a BMW wagon, I don’t know if its the greenhouse, schnoz, or what.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      I really like that V90. If Volvo doesn’t overdo the tech and make it fragile, they might be back in the large car game. Cause we all know the S80 hasn’t been cutting it since about 2009.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        I test drove an S90 a couple of weeks ago. VERY nice interior, probably best in class, along with the E-class. Mature, sophisticated and upscale, without being boring. Definitely on my short list, although I’d prefer the wagon (but not jacked up with cladding).

        • 0 avatar
          Corey Lewis

          It was interesting to hear the Grand Tour group praise Volvo interiors as right under Bentley these days (Finland episode). I agree it looks great in there.

        • 0 avatar
          EMedPA

          The V90 is a sweet-looking wagon. Wish it had a bit more greenhouse, though. It would be nice to have cars you can see out of again…

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            If you want more greenhouse, you have to go back to the three box, and I’m constantly told that ain’t gonna happen. Try to imagine a four inch higher roof with more greenhouse (and a more vertical windshield) on the cars shown. Then imagine what Sajeev would say about it.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, the new LaCrosse looks pretty good, but god I hate that name.

      I really want to like the new lower Camry, but that face! Looks like Predator when he takes his helmet off. (Note to Toyota designers: not a compliment.)

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      Was at the show last week. The Volvos were generating some legitimate excitement. Pretty inside as well, and just ridiculously comfortable. They might be on to something.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    I understand that Sajeev needs something to write about. But I’m done with the vellum-venom pieces.

    The tone taken by these pieces is always ‘my way or the highway’ This fail, that fail.

    Ok Sajeev, why aren’t you designing cars? Why is your opinion always the right one?

    Instead of Vellum Venom, this should be ‘What Sajeev likes’

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      In a design critique, the writers opinion is always the right one. That’s why it’s a critique.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “But I’m done with the vellum-venom pieces.”

      Jesus, shut up!

      Nothing Sajeev does is ever half-assed and he brings a studied eye and official nomenclature to this all-important topic.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I disagree. I work on the engineering side, and styling/design and engineering are almost always battling each other. I like listening to designers talk about what they’re trying to do.

      then, of course, I start thinking of reasons it’s not manufacturable ;)

    • 0 avatar

      If my opinion was always the right one, I’d never respond to people in the comments section, or ask the editors to shut off the comments.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      I love Vellum Venom. I’ve learned a ton from these articles, and there is no comparable content anywhere else online. This is one of those rare pieces of original content that helps TTAC maintain it’s significance.

      Styling is obviously objective, so if I disagree, I just take Sajeev’s opinion and move on.

    • 0 avatar
      Sceptic

      Michal, agree with you. Photos are cool, but commentary is quite pretentious.

      • 0 avatar

        Welcome to the world of Industrial Design.

        • 0 avatar
          WheelMcCoy

          Heh, welcome to the world of fashion. It’s not called Vellum Venom for nothing! Count me as a fan of these columns.

          Mercedes — might have done better with a “Knight Edition” badge.

          Four spoke wheel — now I’ve learned to loathe them too! I get it — wheels should convey movement. These might as well be square.

          Trumpchi — I’ll take one in bright orange please.

          Volvo Wagon — ooh pretty! We’ll never see one with wood paneling outside, but maybe inside?

        • 0 avatar
          True_Blue

          It’s a beautiful world to be in. Come on in and get comfy!

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      As a senior industrial designer with a background in aviation drafting – I love these pieces. It’s meant to be critical. It NEEDS to be critical. Sajeev has a solid eye and a great practical knowledge to bridge the gap between the “art and science” – Cadillac can send me the check – of design wants and and engineering needs.

      Having a foundation based on both sides of the form and function builds better products, and it makes better articles, too.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “Better keep full coverage insurance, otherwise you’ll “enjoy” replacing that tailgate after backing into a pole!”

    I’m unsympathetic to this mindset. Maybe people should, you know, try to pay attention to what they’re doing and not back into poles? or other cars?

    If you think it’s your God-given right to carelessly back into things, go get yourself a 1974 Thunderbird.

    i0.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/4-2-and-4-4-2012-011.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Five mph bumpers saved my stupid teenaged self more than once, I’d welcome their return. Heck the chrome battering rams on either end of my Celebrity was just about the best part about that car.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “Saved” how? they do little to protect you in a serious collision.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Backed into an old grain truck. Would have had to tell Dad that I did and he would have… been less than pleased. (No damage to the truck of course – probably would have survived a nuclear blast.)

          Backed into another early 80s car with 5 mph bumpers. Pushed both bumpers in on their dampers and popped back out later. No damage to either car.

          Beats having to tell Dad I f(#$ed up.

        • 0 avatar
          iNeon

          Because on the internet we’re all the type of people that spend to replace scuffed/bumped bumpers?

          Personally, I cringe to think about it– but would never spend if the thing wasn’t hanging off the car.

    • 0 avatar
      jimble

      Even if you drive perfectly 100% of the time you still have to worry about other drivers. I can’t imagine ever leaving some of these things parked on the street, but to each his own I guess.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I have off-street parking, and a balcony overlooking the street, in a beach area where there are more cars than available parking. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen parallel parking, whose deliberate plan is to slowly back into a spot until they lightly bump the car behind them – and then move forward and lightly tap the car in front of them, then back up about six inches and park.

        • 0 avatar
          Sam Hell Jr

          The “Braille method”. If you don’t have a backup camera and drive anything more recent than 2010, you’re not left with many options. Add in hills, nighttime, and foul weather, and the situation worsens.

          I’m pretty good with my mirrors but my margin of error backing up is probably a full meter. Sucks.

          • 0 avatar
            WheelMcCoy

            Even a backup camera has it short comings. I think it was on Edmunds car site, but the driver was so focused on the backup camera display, he did not see the low hanging pipe above and behind. It was a tight indoor parking spot, and sure enough, he smashed his rear window. If he had only turned is head and looked back!

    • 0 avatar
      300zx_guy

      I just got rear ended at a stop light the other day, in my 2004 Outback wagon. The guy got out of his car, I gestured for him to pull to the side so we didn’t block traffic for no reason. Then he took off and lost me by speeding through a nearby parking lot. I got out and, much to my surprise, I couldn’t find any damage to my car. The impact made quite a crunching noise, I was sure there would be damage. I’ve also been hit twice in the rear of my 96 300zx, both times only minor damage to the bumper, rest of car not damaged at all. So count me in on bumpers that actually offer a measure of protection.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I love the new Volvo wagon, even more than the S90. I worry that we will only get the XC version, and not the simple wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      MAGICGTI

      Worry not, it’s coming summer 2017.

    • 0 avatar
      MLS

      Volvo has confirmed that the V90 will be offered in the U.S., but only by special order. The XC version will be stocked. I could see restricting the standard wagon to special order in parts (most?) of the country, but find it hard to believe that New England dealers, for example, wouldn’t be able to move them from stock.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Thanks for the info! As long as the V90 is available, I am happy to special order. I want to drive the new 5-series and the A4 first, but I am about ready to drop some cash.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Hahahahahaha, that shadow on the Cadillac badge! Their designers are stuck in the 90’s, unbelievable. Even us graphics artists have moved on from bevels and shadows, it’s all about crisp flat design nowadays.

    So much fail. That was a good laugh for a Monday morning. Just wow.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Glad someone else agrees with me on the new LS-Lacrosse connection. I’m pretty disappointed. Lexus’ current square jawed/broad shouldered RWD sedan design looks way better than this…. more current, more distinctive, more everything. I’ve even grown to accept the Predator Maw™.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Interesting article.

    I have to say I’m underwhelmed buy all the over-the-top design language used on so many cars, especially the gaping grilles.

    While it is refreshing to see such expression given not only on the front of cars, but the attention given to the sides and rear with crisp lines and sculpting, at the same time I feel the designers are trying too hard and the results look rather comical.

    Hey! It’s better than the boring blobs of yesteryear, though, so I’ll take that!

    I’m awaiting parts 2 & 3.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Hyundai’s adaptive cruise control implementation is bad across the board. On the G80 and G90 it just looks like a big lexan shield in the center of the grille.

  • avatar
    3XC

    Counterpoint: That puffy Abarth emblem has a big ass scorpion on it, and Hulkamania colors, providing some redemption for a chick car with half an engine. /s

  • avatar
    dwford

    It’s a sad auto show when the most exciting new design is a rear wheel drive Kia that looks like a 2011 Optima.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      Somebody brought a Ferrari to show off paint or something. It was the only car at the show that drew a crowd of any sort. Granted a lot of the premium marques blew NAIAS off altogether.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Loved this article, thank you Sajeev.

    Good God, that Volvo is beautiful.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    So, does the new Traverse have more Easter egg Chevy logos than the ’08 Malibu, or are they just integrated worse?

    Also, it might just be the similar taillights, but I can’t help but see the Lacrosse and S90 as being part of some strange convergent evolution.

  • avatar
    redliner

    When can I buy an electric Lacrosse? I want my soft, plug-in full size car gosh darnit!

    There is nothing in the middle of the market. Small economy electric cars on the low end and full size luxury machines at the very top end. What’s a middle American to do?

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    Sajeev: would be interested to hear if you got a look at the newer Chevy sedans. I’m trying to decide if they’re sporty and interesting or if somebody tried to combine an automative fascia with a shattered dinner plate.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Re: “girdle working overtime”
    Now that you’ve drawn my eye to it and I see her ample hips, pinched waist, and L belly piercing I find new appreciation for the spindle.

  • avatar
    geo

    Love these pieces, and how they identify – in words – design elements that just seem “off” to me. Looking forward to the Camry piece.


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