Automotive Design Trends - Big pretend grille awards!

Hey, car spotters! In case you hadn't noticed, there's a huge trend in automotive styling towards big fake grilles. We've noted some of the most notable examples and handed out some awards, so that you will also note them. Let's see what they won!

First, some explanation. There are people at every car company whose job it is to work out the styling of the car. This may sound like fun, but there are a few things that drain every stylist's will to live. First, there's the sheer volume of government-mandated safety regulations. Then there's the giant committee of auto executives that love the idea of "fresh new designs" while simultaneously hating anything that's actually different from what they've seen before. There's also the huge amount of money at stake if the model is a consumer failure. So combine massive pressure, design constraints like handcuffs, and mico-managing oversight from terrified bosses, and you have an environment for designing the perfect stupid-looking car.

Every country has crash-safety regulations, and the U.S.A. standards are pretty strict, requiring large rubber-baby-buggy-bumpers of identical height on all vehicles. You often hear about differences between the Euro-spec bumper on a given model and the dorky, bulbous U.S-spec version that completely wrecks the look of the car. Designers would love to abandon the idea of bumpers. They hate them. They're big and lumpy and they make it hard to design a cool-looking car.

In the past, the bumper was a big chrome metal thing. If you liked chrome, it wasn't a bad compromise. Might as well glam up the bumper with some shiny chrome, right? But in recent years, designers have been trying like hell to absorb the bumper into the silhouette of the car's body, enveloping it within the body panels, and as a result, concealing it. This is an expensive game, since the body panels (which are ...protecting the bumper?) will suffer visible damage after even the gentlest of fender benders. Still, everyone loves a sleek shape, so, this is the way the wind is blowing. Have a look at the AMC Matador in the picture. That's about as safe as a bumper can get: a spring-loaded bash guard way out in front of the vehicle. Imagine how much nicer the car would look if we just deleted the bumper? Can't.

So, this is the dream of the automotive stylist: no more bumpers, But, it can never be. Instead, they're trying to pretend it doesn't exist.

Along with the no-bumpers wish, there's a strong desire to have a car with a gigantic grille. Maybe this implies that the motor is massive and needs loads of air. Why? Dump trucks have huge grilles, and they're slow as hell. No matter! People are basically huge children, and fads defy reason. To the six-year-old brain inside your average adult, a huge grille means POWAH! Better still if your giant grille is all frowny and angry-looking, because you're a child whose afraid of the world and you want to scare off the bigger kids that may pick on you. If you're a stylist and want that child's money, you'd better have a big angry grille. So what do you do when you're told to follow the massive grille fad while hiding your bumper shame?

Let's explore some great examples of Big Pretend Grille Syndrome!

Ford Focus
Here is the front end of a 2012 Ford Focus and a 2015 Ford Focus RS. We didn't get the fast RS version of the 2012 Focus here in the states - maybe because Ford thought it would eat into sales of the Mustang? I dunno. Anyway, look at that huge Grille! It must need a lot of air!

Here's the 2012 Focus. The pink area on the left shows us what Ford wants you to think is a big, manly intake. The green area on the right shows us the actual open area of the fake grill that lets in air. They've pretty much painted on a big shouty mouth using black plastic. Why didn't they also add a mustache and goatee?  What about some glasses around the headlights? Missed opportunity, if you ask me.

Here's the 2015 Focus RS. It's a desirable, fast car with a hatchback - eminently justifiable as a daily driver. Check out the huge pink pretend grille! The last time I saw a mouth like that it had a hook in it. Hey, good crowd! The actual grille is marked out in green on the right. Did you notice the bumper? Probably not, since Ford wrapped it in black plastic, making it totally invisible, right? When I look at this I see the following, in this order... A) Ford's shame that their car has to have a dorky bumper. B) Ford's lack of ideas how to hide it. C) Ford hoping I'm dumb enough to think that their huge pretend grill is real. So, both of these masterful designs earn Ford our Good For The Kids Award, for designing a front end to make an eight-year-old boy open his check book. Well done, Ford. Now how about a Focus for grownups? It might as well have plastic Nerf machine guns stuck on the fenders.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe is a quirky design that you either love or hate. I think they get a few points for being different. Some have mumbled that the car looks too much like an Aston martin, and this is shameful for what reason? A 305-hp sort of Aston-ish looking car for about twenty five kilobucks? Right on! The first generation of the car started out with an unfortunate amount of bogus black plastic polluting the nose, but it wasn't too offensive. Then, in 2013, Hyundai jumped on the idiot bandwagon and gave their car a big dump truck grille that looks like it's biting its tongue. For this uglification, Hyundai brings home the You're Not Helping Award. Gentlemen, it was better before you improved it.

Here's the 2010 Genesis Coupe. The mouth at the bottom is supposed to simulate, what? ...brake ducts? At least they had the good taste to cover  the bumper area with body color.
Here's the improved 2013 model. The big mouth puts the bumper on proud display, but don't worry. A little black plastic makes it disappear! It sort of looks like an angry teen wearing his retainer. Kid, you don't scare me. Go home. As a cool bonus, don't miss the fake nostrils on the hood that do nothing but make you impulsively buy Axe Body Spray.

Audi A4 (but really most Audis, really)
Audi has been loving the dump truck grille for a number of years now. Please fail to notice the bumper blocking about 30% of the pretend grille on their 2015 A4.
Audi wins our I Know Nutting Award in the Pretend Grillympics. The ratio of plastic fakeness to actual intakeness is laughable. But at least it has that dump truck racing cache' that's sweeping the nation. Once again, black ABS makes the bumper absolutely invisible. It's a Teutonic masterpiece in metal und shteel, but mostly schwarz plashtic.

Ford Fusion
"But," you say, "If you're so smart, show us what the front of a car should look like, clever trousers!" There are lots of less dopey-looking nosejobs than those displayed by the stars of today's awards. An easy example is the Ford Fusion. See? Ford's not completely clueless. Put this nose on the Focus RS and you'd have me up late trying to figure out how to afford one.
See? It CAN be done. Only the fake brake ducts are fake. The Ford Fusion gets our Ray Of Hope Award.

Toyota Corolla S
After the sixth generation Celica and before the Scion FR-S (a span of about 14 years), Toyota was the champion of beige, forgettable transportation appliances. Even now that they've started glancing in the direction of their customer base that still has a pulse by producing the FR-S coupe, they're still desperately trying to shake off the mantle of "grandma's sensible car". Their half-assed "S" version of the 2015 Corolla takes the beigemobile and makes it faster by adding a frowny face and by painting on a baffling mouth using the magical hue of "plastique nior". Toyota's "we're still hip.... pretty please" ad campaign uses fire imagery and lots of dancing teens to convince you this snowboarding granny is ready to pump out the jamz.

Please don't tell me the "S" is supposed to stand for "sport". Toyota's desperation makes us feel sorry for them. Their Corolla S gets the Participation Trophy that every kid gets, just for showing up. It's an award for taking up space. Well done, Corolla S.

Taking this trend to its logical conclusion, we have simulated an even faster version of the Corolla S. Everything forward of the front axles is covered in textured black plastic. Therefore, it's an air intake. Therefore, the car is more aggressive and also faster. You're welcome.
Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is the first electric car that can be fun to drive and (mostly) nice to look at. It doesn't have an internal combustion engine, so it barely has any need at all for a grille, apart from cabin ventilation and maybe some light cooling of the batteries and electric motors. That said, why did Tesla feel obligated to basically put a picture of a grille on their flagship model? We're guessing it's because they felt customers would be turned off by a car that didn't look conventional enough.
This pretend grille is almost entirely pointless. It's a big black dot on the nose that serves little purpose other than possibly meeting the expectations of buyers weirded out by being too different. What a letdown. It sure doesn't look like an eighty-five-thousand dollar car. This silly black dot gets the Clown nose AwardIt's an electric car. It doesn't need as many holes as a piston engine car, so don't make fake holes.
Interestingly, Saleen, the guys you may know from their many years tuning Mustangs, has made available their better, faster, and MUCH PRETTIER version of the Model S. It's called the Tesla Saleen FourSixteen, and it not only fixes the goofy black dot problem, but it makes the whole car look like it's worth the price you paid for it. This pretty thing gets the Yes! Yes! Oh God YES! Award. Thank you, third party manufacturers, for showing the big companies how it's done. What are you doing after the show, gorgeous?


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