Vellum Venom Vignette: Protect Me From What I Want

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom vignette protect me from what i want

Lowell writes:


I thought you might know: What’s up with so many recent cars incorporating an oversized, black plastic, gaping maw in place of what’s been normal-sized grilles on cars? Lexus comes to mind first, with a visage that any Predator could love. But also, Hyundai Veloster, the revamped Yaris, various Audis, and so forth.

Is this related to some Euro pedestrian law, compliance with which mandates some high percentage of very breakable plastic up front? Darned hard to explain otherwise. At least for me. So I thought I’d ask.

Sajeev answers:

This question torments my inner car designer with every stroll down a dealer’s lot. Row upon row of gaping-maw-mobiles with frontal area worthy of a barn door. And because of Lexus, Audi, the Hyundai Veloster, etc. you mentioned working hard to bring macho excitement to so much undesirable real estate, trucks grow even larger to compensate.

Because frontal area (also known as reference area) is a critical variable in calculating aerodynamics, the gaping-maw-tobile kills efficiency in a place where maximization was commonplace through the use of bullet-shaped noses. How much fuel is wasted with cars possessing the fuel saving, grille shuttering, “aero tech” ( pun intended) while lacking the sleek, small noses from the 1980s (below) and especially the 1990s (first photo)?

We could combine what we have now with our previous schnozes…but fuel is so cheap right now nobody cares anyway.

But I’m torn, because it’s a tragic, unintended consequence of Europe’s wholly-valid Pedestrian Safety legislation. Pedestrian lives matter to everyone and The Laws of Physics are absolute: I witnessed a kid in highschool crossing the street (without looking) and went over the painfully pointed face of a Chevy Beretta. This is actually a rare occurrence in my town, considering Houston’s sidewalk-averse urban sprawl.

Look, I grew up with the American aerodynamic renaissance of the mid-80s to mid-90s. I am still looking for the perfect Mercury Sable to complement TTAC’s Ford Sierra project car. But I understand why we, a global community of motorists, need boxy front fascias.

Even if they are a mixed bag o’ benefits. Style and fuel economy penalty aside, our own article by Mr. Schwoerer said it best:

I attended the CTI Car Training Institute’s 2007 Pedestrian Protection Forum at Sindelfingen. It was quite touching to see nerdy auto engineers stand up and say things like “we have the technology, so let’s get up off our backsides and do what we can to stop this killing of people.” U.S. officials were noticeably less keen.

In a phone interview, a NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) spokesman told me that America’s vehicle mix — more trucks and SUVs — isn’t as conducive to pedestrian-friendly technology as cars in the Eurozone. NHTSA research suggests that there are unexplored trade-offs involved. “You can make a car front better for children, but then it may get worse for adults.” Why not publish pedestrian-safety ratings and let the consumer decide? “Again, we don’t think you can find a one-size-fits-all solution”.

America can do more — but would Americans pay for the technology available on some Volvos and make it a federal mandate? And would Americans repair the tech if, heaven forbid, it threw a body computer warning code at the bottom of the vehicle’s depreciation curve?

I doubt we have such regard for pedestrians, at least when real money comes into play. Americans can’t even give a shit about the people that make our dirt-cheap clothes, we still — after decades of awareness — allow this to happen.

Welcome to the complex world of auto design: designers must protect the consumer from what they want.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

[Image: Lexus]

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4 of 65 comments
  • SPPPP SPPPP on Dec 11, 2015

    I think the annoyance with this trend has to do with the relatively small number of pedestrian deaths (less than 5,000 per year in the USA) and the uncertainty of how effective these new measures are, combined with the certainty that cars are getting uglier and every last one of us has to see them. Also, according to the statistics, about a third of the killed pedestrians 16 years or older are legally drunk at the time. Yet MADW (Mothers Against Drunk Walking) does not, as far as I know, exist. Distracted walking is another major issue, though I don't think there are ways to reliably track it. How many fatalities will really be prevented by the new high-prow car designs? I guess we will have to wait and see. Since 70% of these fatalities happen at night, it seems to me that driver alert technologies would probably give a better result, though they bring their own costs and complexities.

    • See 1 previous
    • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on Jan 21, 2016

      Just found this article. Yes dumb pedestrian moves are the proximate cause. The ugly Euro front ends are the result of a lack of interest in clean styling, ("we are engineers, not artists!"), and the pedestrian-catcher regs give them an excuse for having boxy looks. Not universally true, but there are examples if you look for them. I once worked with a couple of brothers who lived in New Yorkers and presumptively conditioned to pay attention to their surroundings. Yet one of them, in his early twenties, started across Coney Island Ave. towards a subway station, and walked out from between two parked cars in the middle of a block, smack dab in front of a passing result, a near fatality, and a long hospital stay followed by a lengthy recuperation period. What about peripheral vision, you ask? Seems it had been snowing, and he was wearing his snorkel jacket with a snorkel that extended a foot or more past the end of his nose. Never bothered to turn his head to either side...his own words. Just stepped out, figuring traffic would, and would have to, stop for a pedestrian. His education may not have ended that day, but it surely continued that morning. Fortunately he eventually recovered completely...several months later.

  • Its me Dave Its me Dave on Dec 11, 2015

    I could live with the gaping maws, but why do all the designers have to style them after trout, carp or eel mouths?

  • Oberkanone Priced too high though not by much.
  • FreedMike Looks VERY niche to me. But that's not necessarily a bad thing - this might serve nicely as a kind of halo model for VW.
  • SPPPP Point: It's the only EV minivan around. Counterpoint: It's too expensive for a minivan, heavy, ugly, and has bad ergonomics. To me, a PHEV like the Sienna or Pacifica seems like a more sensible solution.
  • Oberkanone Were I able to get past my distrust and loathing of VW I'd want a 2 row ID Buzz. Pricing is about right for the current marketplace. Will it sell? Demand will exceed supply. After two years in the marketplace the novelty may be gone and demand may drop like an anchor.
  • Sam Who do I sue when the car doesn't do what I want it to and that action of the car being autonomous caused the crash?