The language of cars is full of gobbledy-gook. Buzzwords are repeated so often they no longer mean anything, and phrases used in marketing material or press releases are often just plain untrue when dissected.
Here’s a list of terms that we’ve seen a few too often and find a little too cliché.
“A body that looks like it’s in motion, even when standing still”
Here’s an excerpt from a Hyundai press release:
“In keeping with a design that speaks to the owner rather than ‘the spectators’ who might see the car on the road, Vision G appears dynamic and in constant motion,” said Christopher Chapman, head of Hyundai’s design.
This phrase is so cliché, and used to describe many vehicles that feature a swept back design, or sling-shot features, like the headlights on the Ford Focus. It would be more accurate to say the car just looks fast, because a car’s body is fixed and doesn’t move, no matter how fast the car is going.
Typically, we are wary of angry people. Angry is bad. And being aggressive on the road is just as worrying, leading to road rage, accidents and other preventable situations. Why design a car to project aggressiveness? Do you really want to be in a vehicle that looks angry all the time? What does that end up saying about you?
Check out this excerpt from a Lexus press release about the RC-F:
“The RC F stands out for the visual aggression added to the stylish body of the new RC coupe. It features an exclusive version of the Lexus signature spindle grille that dominates the front of the vehicle, with an “F” motif embedded in its mesh from below the Lexus symbol. Meanwhile, the unique high hood continues the aggressive look and also produces a powerful side view.
Or how about this one that talks about a Camry. A CAMRY, folks:
“An aggressive looking front bumper and grille, pronounced side character lines and low-profile LED headlamps give the new Camry a far more expressive style.”
A car is typically the second most expensive thing a person will buy (the first being a house). They are complicated and typically over-engineered, so of course it has been designed and crafted with precision. If it was created without a ruler or any kind of measurement, it very likely wouldn’t work very well.
Just look at the way this Bentley EXP 10 press release uses the term:
“The ethos of the design was to develop contemporary interpretations of Bentley styling cues, which have been brought together with beauty and precision.“
Heck, Acura named a whole concept car the Precision:
” ‘The Acura Precision Concept is more than simply a concept vehicle, it is a design study model that literally will shape the direction of all future Acura products around our Precision Crafted Performance DNA,’ said Dave Marek, Acura global creative director.”
Mercedes-Benz describes more than a few of its cars as having a breathtaking design. Let’s be real. When was the last time a car literally made you stop breathing? And that was a good thing? This cliché was used with the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG, a car that’s easily described as “a slightly taller than usual hatchback with a spoiler.” That’s not breathtaking at all.
As stated in the debut of the concept: “The concept GLA 45 AMG combines stunning engineering with some breathtaking styling features.”
When it comes to cars, “premium” means something a little different than what you’re used to. It typically means that something is higher-class, but not too high-end. Premium sits between mainstream and luxury.
Unfortunately, it’s a term that’s now being used to describe everything, even in mainstream cars, like the Hyundai Elantra, or utility vehicles like the Ford F-150. The trim is “premium.” The seats are “premium.” The stitching is “premium.” Those wheels are “premium.” Like other words in this list, it’s become watered down and doesn’t mean what it once did.
As found in the 2017 Hyundai Elantra press release: “The contemporary interior design integrates premium soft-touch materials in key touch points and high-tech details to create an inviting and comfortable interior environment for all passengers.”
Sporty sounds like a great way to describe a car that’s influenced by motorsports or racing. It sounds like it has the bones and blood of an athlete.
Sadly, cars like the Corolla and RAV4 – with little to no athleticism – are described as sporty, and that has really watered down the term.
Toyota says: “Based on the sporty Corolla S grade with the CVTi-S transmission, the Special Edition adds more driving excitement. Sporty styling features, inside and out, complement a spirited driving experience made possible with steering wheel paddle shifters, rear disc brakes and Sport Driving Mode along with an array of additional standard features.”
Many German automakers overuse the word “dynamic,” using it instead of fun, energetic or enjoyable. Maybe it’s something lost in translation, but in English, describing something as dynamic can mean a few things, but it is so overused that it ends up meaning nothing at all.
As BMW puts it:
“A smoothly downward-sloping roofline, displaying familiar BMW proportions, headlined by a long hood, short overhangs, long wheelbase and set-back passenger compartment highlight a sporting elegance and powerful sense of dynamics.“
Have you ever seen an actual cockpit in an airplane? They’re quite confusing, with lots of dials, gauges and buttons. There’s also typically a co-pilot in the plane to help ensure everything goes smoothly.
Cars really shouldn’t be compared to this, since they’re designed to have one pilot, and not overwhelm the driver with too much information, as that can be distracting on the road. But for some reason, automakers want drivers to feel like they’re in control of a fighter jet, and will continue to use the term cockpit to describe the interior of a car.
As Nissan puts it: “Combined with the visor windshield and available Dual Panel Panoramic Moonroof, a cockpit feel is created inside the vehicle.”
The new Hyundai Elantra, Infiniti QX80 and Volvo S60 are all described as having a “driver-oriented interior.” Is it strange to expect a car with an interior that’s catered to someone other than the driver? Like, maybe the speedometer or ignition is on the passenger side of the vehicle? Of course the car should have driver-oriented interior, because it wouldn’t make sense otherwise.
Kia describes its new Sportage like this: “Inside, the new Sportage’s driver-oriented cockpit features a simple and modern design with clean horizontal lines emphasizing a more spacious interior.”
Are car designers experiencing emotions while sketching the vehicles? Are they crying over a harsh breakup, or raging over some mishap that occurred during the car ride to the office? Or does emotional design mean that the way a car looks is meant to invoke some kind of emotion other than “I need to use that vehicle to go somewhere.”
Many automakers reference emotions, or emotional design, including the Fiat 500X, the Toyota FT-1 and the Porsche Mission E. Think of any car, and it’s very possible that there was an “emotion” designed into it. We just don’t know what that emotion is.
In a Fiat release they say: “The visual imagery of the print and outdoor campaign is designed to evoke emotion as the Fiat 500 is set against a clean yet bold background featuring a distinct accent color.”