Bob Lutz, Contributor
I'm a car guy, and that's (mostly) what I write about.
Typically, when design clinic respondents are asked which view of their preferred-choice car they would send to friends and/or relatives, the front three-quarter angle polls at about 80%. You’d think many would select the straight side view, which, distortion-free in photographs, best displays the size, sweep, length and overall cohesiveness of the design.
But, then, when asked by the parents to send a picture of the new girlfriend, a majority of guys will send a likeness of her face, even though that may not be her best attribute!
And thus it is with cars. The front end, grille, fascia and headlights form a very distinct “face,” and, much like a human visage, it can have expressions: happy, purposeful, angry, aggressive, sad or even bored.
And, just like we recognize and trust familiar human faces, it’s important for car brands to maintain some “facial continuity” for purposes of recognition and awareness.
Nobody has done this better than BMW and Mercedes. Both, across many decades and dozens of new vehicles, have evolved and modernized their grilles (with the “twin kidneys” of BMW sometimes wider, sometimes framed, sometimes more rectangular), but they have maintained their essential brand identities. This consistency is a large part of their enviable brand health. Being instantly recognized by everyone as the owner of a BMW or Mercedes is hugely important to the owners!
Cadillac, Buick, GMC and, especially Chevrolet are also excellent examples of ever-evolving, yet visually consistent, front-end themes. (In the case of Chevrolet, it only got religion on this about 10 years ago).
Not so Honda, where every car and truck in the lineup has a face so different from the rest as to be unrecognizable as a Honda from a distance.
And not so Ford. The F-150 seems to offer a wide array of “series differentiated” grilles, and the passenger cars, in recent years, have gone from an ovoid cat-fish mouth to an arched rectangular mesh with a Ford oval in the center, to a grille with three massive horizontal bars, to an attractive grille shape reminiscent of Aston Martin. Not all is consistent, however, as the freshened version of the ill-conceived Flex has what appears to be no grille at all. It also eschews the Ford blue oval; a serious error in the quest for brand unity and strength.
Even worse is Ford’s Lincoln brand, struggling for legitimacy and just a modicum of respect, please, after spending decades as little more than gussied-up Fords, sometimes with nary a sheet-metal change.
In cases where you skimp on sheet-metal investment and differentiated technology, front-end appearance and consistency are doubly important!
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