Vellum Venom: 2017 North American International Auto Show (Part II)

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom 2017 north american international auto show part ii

My long-standing personal vendetta against DLO FAIL — an internet-slang definition of black plastic “ cheater panels— takes center stage in this episode of Detroit Auto Show coverage.

Consider this: if manufacturing and design teams cannot decide on the same roof, if they cheat to make it right, did they design something worthy of the auto show lights?

I [s]complain[/s] report, you make the final decision!

The top photo (Infiniti QX50) highlights Infiniti’s signature quarter window treatment. It’s done right: an oddly appealing yet counterintuitively jagged form that visually slows “excites” the body from nose to tail. And it’s a window made from glass.

Too bad about the downmarket QX30: shiny black plastic cheats Infiniti’s luxurious mission of brand cohesiveness.

While not DLO FAIL, let’s dig deeper in that branding thing: Infiniti’s signature quarter-window design throws a jagged edge to the Q60 coupe’s otherwise sleek roofline. The clumsy chrome highlight allows extraneous C-pillar sheetmetal that “slows down” the roofline and thickens up the body’s middle section. And thicker is not a good word for this coupe.

A Mercury Grand Marquis Coupe? Sure.

Even if your brand demands its own Hoffmeister Kink, sparing no visual expense to implement is a bad idea.

The 1980s (well, 1970s concept cars) design aesthetic of a floating roof (via glass-covered rear pillar) is coming back in a big way. The 2018 Honda Odyssey joined the bandwagon.

From afar it looks snazzy, if overwrought and convoluted with those directional wheels spinning the wrong way.

But line up the rear pillar with the rear hatch, and you’ll notice a serious mismatch. How is this better than a sheet of glass over the entire rear pillar, eliminating the slow, droopy and disjointed sheetmetal?

It’s because we have to look different to move the metal. Different is always better.

And yes, this journey is still about DLO FAIL, and the Odyssey didn’t fail to please. The outgoing model used a proper sheet of glass, befitting its higher-than-Chrysler asking price.

Don’t be surprised if this plastic panel cheating meant another widget made production sans a significant bump in sticker price, which makes things better if you don’t give a crap about car design.

GMC’s Terrain took the opposite route, a looney glass pillar aligning with the hatch at the top, leaving the bottom visually slow and static.

The top chrome accent is GM’s take on downmarket application of using just enough bling to appear more upscale. It’s increasing thickness as the window narrows is clumsy, but it echos the quarter panel’s (unfortunate) upkick.

This rig would be so much more appealing with glass that never kicked up at the rear door, going straight to the base of the taillight. Yes, the engineering inside is light-years ahead of the original SUVs, but what I wouldn’t do for a “top swap” implementing the 1995-2005 model’s floating rear pillar.

Just like the Odyssey, there’s DLO FAIL. It’s mostly unnecessary, as the Terrain’s greenhouse is suitably tough and truck-y. There’s no need to pretend it’s a sedan with a greenhouse extension so obviously artificial.

The new Chevrolet Cruze continues this nameplate’s tradition of cheating the greenhouse to look speedy. The continuous chrome ring is surprisingly more upscale than the “above the equator only” look of the GMC Terrain; a pleasant irony considering a price differential in the Cruze’s favor.

The same half-hearted kudos for the Cruze’s C-pillar. Too bad the Ford Fiesta has two extra sheets of glass (no cheating on either end) and stickers at $13,660.

Thank goodness the far more upscale Chevy Bolt uses a proper sheet of glass to avoid the cheat.

Spoke too soon: the GMC Terrain’s odd chrome accent is apparently a thing at GM’s design studio. But with the Bolt? It goes above a shiny plastic slice of DLO FAIL.

Also note how the lower window’s rubber (matte black) molding transitions into a shiny, happy panel pretending to be glass. Tesla proved that green machines are also sold on prestige, and the Bolt is no different … just to a lesser extent.

Speaking of prestige…

The definitely not cheap Ford GT eschews the last iteration’s more upright B-pillar (but it was still sleek, come on!) for a little slice of DLO FAIL. This is a spare no expense vehicle, and its design put functionality above all else. Except when it comes to cheating the greenhouse.

Whatever faith I have in car design is slipping further away. How could this possibly happen?

The GT’s greenhouse design is plenty fast, but DLO FAIL isn’t making it faster. Ford should’ve kept the outgoing model’s strong coda at door/B-pillar intact.

At least they got it right with the new EcoSport.

No cheating, no venom on the vellum. While pricing isn’t available, it’s a safe bet this cute CUV is several hundreds of thousands of dollars cheaper than the flagship Ford GT.

Speaking of cheap and cheerful CUVs, praise for the Jeep Compass continues in our second installment. A beautifully designed A-pillar that looks fast because it is fast: no cheating via DLO FAIL.

The brightwork starts high (like the aforementioned GM products) but elegantly transitions to separate the glass from the metal (plastic?) on the rear hatch. Get the light right and there’s even a character line adding a little muscle to the curve.

This earns an “A” for both effort and creativity.

The GAC GE3 shows that China isn’t too far off, but that dorsal fin and fake window are wasted effort. The entire D-pillar shoulda been white or all glass.

Less depressing than the Ford GT is the new Lincoln Continental’s chubby chrome spillover. Why the down-market integration when the Chrysler 300 lines up the lines with precision?

Or perhaps the never disappointing Hoffmeister kink: thanks to the new 5 Series for showing luxury marques how it’s done.

I enjoy concept cars that are (likely) production-ready with a thin veneer of show car magic (no protective trim or door handles, useless lighting and mirrors, etc.) to dazzle onlookers.

I don’t much care for when the veneer can’t hide the mismatch of door, greenhouse and A-pillar known as DLO FAIL.

Here’s the second installment of NAIAS Camry coverage: from bumper-to-bumper, all trim levels are overwrought with counter intuitive plastic contours, but the C-pillar ripple is the biggest eyesore.

In fairness, that dip might have an aero advantage over a traditional contour. Still, it’s an open wound of sorts.

How about some salt in the wound? Peep the black vinyl top (yes, really) on this Camry SE.

Open the door and run your fingernail along the edge: yup, it’s vinyl.

Engineering-wise, this insulates the cabin from the extra heat on a sunny day (padded vinyl tops, especially white ones, work great in Houston summers), but there’s no excuse for applying black vinyl on a production car’s C-pillar to extend the black panels in the roof. And yet, that logic justifies the vinyl extension.

Thanks to the new Camry, DLO FAIL is more than just plastic cheater panels. It’s shiny black vinyl tops (extending glass moonroofs?), too.

So we end on a high note: some DLOs ( Rinspeed Oasis at the ZF booth) are packed with so much WIN you feel a zen-like bliss upon beholding its glass-panel perfection.

No cheating, all winning my friends.

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  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Feb 17, 2017

    RE: the QX60 coupe. The angle of the photo makes it appear as if there's a mismatch along the chrome gutter where the rubber window seal exists on the door but doesn't in the rear window. Is it that blatant in person? This seems like a simple thing to design around. RE: the side rear glass on the Odyssey. Doesn't the sheet metal impede visibility as much as the old Cadillac ETC? RE: the GMC Terrain. On the one hand, it's like they're trying to rip off Volvo's "hips". On the other hand, at least with the glass toward the top you should be able to see out of it. On the third hand (why not?), the extra sheet metal somehow makes it appear more wagon-like because I get a distinct Dodge Magnum vibe from it. Remember when people thought the cars from Back to the Future II were weird? We're past that now, it seems.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Dec 01, 2017

    It's all in the integration--which seems to be sorely lacking with most of today's cars. Granted that aerodynamics are needed to comply with fuel-economy laws around the world, that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice a truly integrated style just to get originality. FCA is again proving they can combine style with functionality that honestly looks better that the rest (mostly.)

  • JLGOLDEN In order for this total newcomer to grab and hold attention in the US market, the products MUST be an exceptional value. Not many people will pay name-brand money for the pretty mystery. I can appreciate the ambition of selling $50K+ crossovers, but I think they will go farther with their $30K-$40K offerings.
  • Dukeisduke They're where Tesla was when it started - a complete unknown. I haven't heard anything about a dealer network. How are they going to sell these? Direct like Tesla? Franchises picked up by existing new car dealers?
  • Master Baiter As I approach retirement, and watch my IRA and 401K account balances dwindle, I have less and less interest in $150K vehicles.
  • Azfelix With a name that sounds like a bad Google translation, problems appear to permeate every aspect of the company. I suggest a more aggressive advertising campaign during The Super Terrific Happy Hour show to turn things around.
  • Buickman GoneFast.
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