A (cynical) friend of mine once commented: ‘You can tell when a trend has peaked. It’s when the motor industry cottons on to it.’
A little unfair, I feel. But, as with many generalisations, there is a grain of truth there. The car industry is rarely an early adopter of new design trends – be it colours, textures or materials. It’s been very slow with connectivity. Automotive apologists may point to the long gestation period between conception and birth of new cars. I would argue that siting your finest design brains in cultural backwaters – few car companies are headquartered in energised cities – doesn’t help.
Oversized car badges: the latest fashion
Take the motor industry’s current obsession with oversized badges. It’s the sort of thing that the fashion industry used to do: logos and brand names writ large and oversized. ‘Armani’, ‘GAP’, ‘Polo’, ‘Gucci’ – they were all at it. One’s chest became a billboard.
It all seems a bit passé now. Yet successive car models get bigger badges and logos, especially on their prows. Marketing and design bosses will tell you that it promotes their brands and improves marque differentiation. Perhaps. But if the only way a car buyer can tell a Vauxhall from a Hyundai is by the badge, then there’s clearly something rotten in the state of car design.
I can excuse the big three-pointed star in the grille of the current sportier Mercedes models – it’s an attractive and identifiable logo, and one steeped in heritage (as worn in the grille of the SL and SLR of the ’50s). Who could object to the prominent prancing horses clinging to the front wings of the latest Ferraris (although Ferrari nose badges are often surprisingly inconspicuous).
Intriguingly, Porsches and Aston Martins have discreet badging (so does the new McLaren). BMW and Mini don’t shout loud either; nor do the better Fiats and Alfas. They rightly reckon that the overall design of their cars differentiates enough. Their badges do not need to bellow.
The brands with the weakest images often have the biggest badges
But when I see chunky Vauxhall griffins on the prows of Astras and Corsas, vast stylised Hs on the maws of Hyundais and Hondas, giant round Nissan logos on the noses of Qashqais, and almost life-sized lions on Peugeots, I say: Enough! They are meaningless adornments, little-recognised totems, irrelevant to owners, useless design frippery. Few drivers of these cars wish blatantly to advertise their brand allegiances, so why force them to do so?
In the litany of oversized car company logos, the most unprepossessingly pumped-up is surely the giant golden Elastoplast on the grilles of the latest Korean Chevrolets. When I first saw a car disporting this nose patch, I assumed some yellow piece of street detritus – a large piece of plastic, perhaps? – had blown onto the grille of the poor chap’s car. But no!
The Chevrolet logo goes back to 1913 and has been worn on a succession of memorable American cars, not least the meatier Camaros. But they were historically discreetly designed in the grille. It was a tactful piece of jewellery, not tacky brand embellishment.
Now that the fashion brands are ceasing to scream quite so loudly, surely the car industry will follow? Of course they will – in about two or three years, or so my cynical friend will say.