By on February 10, 2017

Infiniti QX50 quarter window, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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 complain report, you make the final decision!

Infiniti QX30 D-pillar DLO FAIL, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Infiniti Q60 C-pillar, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Honda Odyssey Side Profile, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Honda Odyssey D-pillar Glass, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Honda Odyssey A pillar DLO FAIL, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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 Terrain D pillar DLO FAIL, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

GMC Terrain D pillar DLO FAIL, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

GMC Terrain A pillar DLO FAIL, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Chevrolet Cruze A-pillar DLO FAIL, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Chevrolet Cruze C-pillar DLO FAIL, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Chevrolet Bolt A-pillar glass-pillar, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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

Chevrolet Bolt DLO FAIL C-pillar, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Ford GT DLO FAIL Roofline, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

Speaking of prestige…

Ford GT DLO FAIL Roofline, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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?

Ford GT DLO FAIL Roofline, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Ford EcoSport Greenhouse Roofline, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

At least they got it right with the new EcoSport.

Ford EcoSport A-pillar glass, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Jeep Compass Roofline, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Jeep Compass C-pillar, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

GAC SUV C-pillar, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Lincoln Continental C-pillar, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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?

BMW 5 Series NAIAS, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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

Subaru Concept SUV NAIAS, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

2017 Toyota Camry C-pillar, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

2017 Toyota Camry SE black roof, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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

2017 Toyota Camry SE black roof, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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.

Rinspeed Concept at ZF Booth, Image: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

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

  • avatar

    Ok, I really can’t stand the floating roof trend everyone seems to be pursuing. It just looks weird, provides too much opportunity for DLO failure, and lends itself to tortured lines.

    • 0 avatar

      You and me both- what I don’t understand is why it’s done with a narrow strip that jarringly deviates from the curve that the windows form. If it has to be done, it would work a lot better if the entire pillar from top to bottom were blacked out.

  • avatar

    as usual, nicely done
    I’d be happy if you did even more detailed design analysis, and make the posts twice as long!

  • avatar

    I can’t hate the Compass, especially in sharp-contrast paint schemes. They hit the proportions bang-on. Unfortunately the majority will be section-8-spec rolling on 16s.

    Ford GT’s DLO fail looks like it’s directly over a structural roof member. I guarantee design and engineering went back-and-forth over that little triangle several times – and to be fair, all you’d get a better view of would be the enormous wheel-arch buttress blind-spot.

    Great critique, enjoyed it.

  • avatar
    Pete Skimmel

    “The garden in the back is hydroponic,
    good fresh greens every day of the year.”
    – Kamakeriad, Donald Fagen.

  • avatar

    The main thing that really bugs me is when photos are taken at an angle and you have to waste time deciphering which direction is up.

    Graphic arts big-time fail.

    Design-wise, I think the Camry has jumped the shark.

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    I’m personally getting to the point that the DLO FAIL portion of these has edged perilously close to ensuring that a dead horse is dead by kicking the dead horse, thus ensuring it is dead. Does your vellum contain any venom that HASN’T killed a horse in the same manor over, and over, and over again?

    Venom I get: DLO FAIL. And it’s prevalence.

    Things I don’t get: Is there any venom in automotive design that is NOT directly related to a triangle of glass? Ineffective hood lines or angles? Worse than tacky artificial wheel well creases?

    The Camry vinyl is hideous! That was the best part of this entire article.

    That the Continental’s rear door handle is a hideous attempt to revive the absolutely stunning handle integration of the 1961-1963 Ford Thunderbird wasn’t mentioned (or even thought of?). An image from an old TTAC thread:

    • 0 avatar

      “Does your vellum contain any venom that HASN’T killed a horse in the same manor over, and over, and over again?”

      If you know a better way to shame manufacturers for their continuous, never ending stream of implementing of poor car design, I am all ears. Seriously.

      “Is there any venom in automotive design that is NOT directly related to a triangle of glass? ”

      Have you seen the ratio of photography regarding DLO vs. other design elements?

  • avatar
    Paul Alexander

    I’ve only recently paid attention to such things, but it seems to me that the desire for a ‘pillarless’ greenhouse leads to every car having the same horribly cheap looking blacked out B pillars on every car. Is there not a more interesting manner in which to use B pillars that isn’t a design failure?

  • avatar

    The current Prius floating roofline with shiny black plastic panels is pretty ridiculous too.

  • avatar

    Yeah, the Ecosport has real glass at the A-pillar (even if 98% of the area is blacked out), but doesn’t the cheapest looking matte grey plastic between that glass and the door glass ruin the visual benefit of using the glass in the first place? Why not just do a giant DLO-fail panel in matching plastic (as seen on previous gen Civic)? (Sajeev – do you know why don’t more cars use better looking shiny black plastic on the DLO panels? Is it really that much more expensive?)
    I totally agree with you on the Infiniti coupe’s C-pillar. Do we really need to use brand-unifying design cues on every model, even when they look forced and ostensibly ruin the profile what might have otherwise been a more attractive car?

    • 0 avatar

      Take a look at the hairline scratching already apparent on the Toyota glossy plastic roof panels and you’ll have your answer as to why matte finish plastic is used on more workaday cars.

      ‘Piano black’ trim is not something that looks good very long. Some people can ignore the hairline scratches or aren’t bothered by the smudges or hazing– but it’s all I can see when I look at the shiny black plastic on my car. There’s not even a good reason why! I spent $10 on the softest cleaning rag available and it still looks like I dust with sandpaper when the light hits it right :(

  • avatar

    A friend has a white Cruze and that DLO fail panel sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a tiny bit crooked, too.
    The Terrain has tail fins! And I like the “s” shape of the reflection on it.

  • avatar

    The bean counter led decline of Toyota’s products continues.


    Eventually this will catch up.

  • avatar

    Sajeev you need to brush up on your history as to WHY cars got chrome strips to the windows and where. Having a chrome strip at the top, as on that new Jeep you so love, is an utter travesty if you know your history. Because rubber seals where not that good in the olden days they added chrome OVER the rubber at the point where it was most likely to leak: the BOTTOM line of the DLO. So if you want to start another venom series, do so for chrome or “chrome” strips at the top of the DLO.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.)

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