2000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
2000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
2000 Nissan Altima
2000 Nissan Altima
2000 Toyota Echo
2000 Toyota Echo
2000 Ford Focus
2000 Ford Focus
2000 Chrysler Neon
2000 Chrysler Neon
2000 Ford Taurus
2000 Ford Taurus
2001 Hyundai Accent GSi
2001 Hyundai Accent GSi
2001 Hyundai Elantra
2001 Hyundai Elantra
2001 Mazda Protege
2001 Mazda Protege

by Greg Wilson

Former design chief of Nissan’s San Diego styling centre, Jerry Hirshberg, used to complain about the ‘tyranny of the wedge’, that popular styling trend that emerged in the 80’s where cars were designed with a low nose and a high tail and appeared to have a wedge-shape when viewed from the side. Hirshberg attempted to free Nissan from this ‘tyranny’ by designing the rounded Nissan Altima and Infiniti J30, and he had moderate success with the former, but failed with the latter.

There’s another popular, but unattractive automotive styling theme which has found its way onto even the most prestigious and elegant automobiles: I call it the ‘tyranny of the trunklid’.

In a nutshell, its the influence of the trunklid shape on the design of the taillights. Typically, the inside edge of each taillight is bordered by the trunk opening – this creates a triangular-shaped taillight as the trunk lid edge usually slopes down from the outside edge to the bumper at a 45 degree angle.

This styling trend began with luxury cars in the 80’s, notably the Jaguar XJ6, Mercedes-Benz 300E, and BMW 5-Series, but has spread to cars like the Ford Focus and Ford Taurus, Chrysler Neon, Pontiac Grand Am, Nissan Sentra, Mazda Protegé, and Hyundai Accent.

The problem I have with it is that it looks like a part of the taillight is missing – instead of the taillight comprising a complete circle or a complete rectangle, the taillight is cut off at the trunklid opening, reinforcing the shape of the trunklid rather than the taillight. As a result, the trunklid shape dominates the rear design of the car rather than the taillight design. The rear of the car is now defined by its rear orifice – the trunklid opening.

If you think of classic taillight designs, contenders might include the twin round taillights of a Ferrari GTO, the quad round taillights of a Corvette, the elegant vertical taillamps of a Cadillac DeVille, the large round taillamps of a 1962 Thunderbird, or the simple taillights of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. There were no incomplete taillights there. And its worth noting that the great cars looked just as good from the back as from the front.

Admittedly, it’s more difficult, technically, for auto manufacturers to hook up the electrical wires to the inside of the trunk because it moves up and down and has to be wired differently – but I don’t believe this is the reason it’s not done.

Perhaps more maddening than the tyranny of the trunklid is that car designers all over the world have become slaves to it. Though Jaguar was the first to try this design, it was Mercedes-Benz that brought it into popularity with the 300E. With the blessing of Mercedes-Benz, the design concept attained instant credibility, and car designers around the world strove to copy it, hoping perhaps that some Mercedes-Benz prestige would rub off on their mass market automobiles.

To their credit, some auto manufacturers have tried different taillight designs – notably, the last generation Ford Taurus – but as this proved unpopular, Ford reverted to a mainstream taillight design. Still, I know there’s room for an attractive taillight design that focuses on the taillights rather than the trunk.

Regrettably, some auto manufacturers have tried the concept at the front of the vehicle. The current Kia Rio and the last-generation Ford Contour have a headlamp design that defined the shape of the hood! I just hope Mercedes-Benz doesn’t find out about it – we’ll be stuck with the ‘hegemony of the hood’ for the next ten years.

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