Why Is This Automotive Design Feature Always Ignored?

Why Is This Automotive Design Feature Always Ignored?
Image: Matt Brown

There are two types of designers. Those that enjoy the challenges of constraints, and those that loathe constraints. Automotive design is hard for the latter type, as there are tons of legal requirements for automobiles. You can’t really hide tail lights or reflectors when there is mandated minimum visibility. And so you get styled lights, sometimes really expensive styled lights. But there are also aspects of automotive design that are swept under the rug; aspects that designers just pretend are not there.

Door jams and other “B-surfaces” are ignored to various extents by designers, depending on the brand. But there is one feature that is seemingly always ignored: the cut line between the bumper and the body. The thinking around this line has always been “Let’s make it as small as possible and pretend it’s not there.”

But it is there. Oh, it is always there, and I always notice it. Now you too will always notice it.

You’re welcome.

It’s usually a hockey stick shape, but sometimes just a straight line. Occasionally you’ll see a side marker lamp in the middle of it, which I think just makes it worse. Now you have two lines: one in front of the lamp and one behind.

I would be remiss to not mention what my colleague Raphael Orlove calls “The greatest bumper cut of all time,” the Golf MK4. I have to agree that it is a pretty good use of lines.

Photo: Nick Preston, Flickr

Still, most of the time automakers just pretend it doesn’t exist. This really started to bother me with the current Toyota Camry. Toyota added a fake vent below the tail light, and while I detest fake vents, I was excited to see that they had made some effort to add design to the bumper cut line. But upon closer inspection, I see that the cut line is still there, right next to the fake vent!

Photo: Matt Brown

Why not use the vent to hide part of the cut line? Was this a disconnect between design and engineering? Was it too expensive or difficult to add the vent at the very edge of the fascia? Why even add this weird, Egyptian Pharaoh eyeliner smear to the back of the vehicle?

I’m not sure what the answer is here. Maybe an extension of the rear lamp, or a really long turn indicator? I’ve spent several years working in design studios, but I’m an engineer, not a designer. Engineers are not allowed to have design ideas, because our design ideas are beige, and square, and inexpensive. If engineers designed cars, they would all look like desktop PCs from the ‘90s. Alas, this line will continue to be ignored; left to be explored someday in the future by an intrepid designer, who will probably turn it into another goddamn fake vent.

This article has been updated since its original publication.