For several years, auto designers lavished attention on the grilles of cars, both for their function and for their brand identity. Now designers are lowering their sights.
They may have shifted their focus to openings within the sides of the front bumpers. After checking out them for enough time, a casual observer might think of these as nostrils, though designers call these cooling-air intakes.
“The term ‘nostrils’ is sensible, because these are where the vehicle breathes,” said Bryan Thompson, an impartial designer who has worked at Nissan.
Vehicles’ faces seem to be showing more and larger expressively formed nostrils, to judge from many models at the New York City International Auto Show. The show, with the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, runs through Sunday.
There are functional reasons for these aids to heavy breathing: Modern high-efficiency engines require more air for cooling, and designers are under pressure to improve aerodynamics with regard to fuel economy.
But prominent vents in the vehicle’s fascia also play into designers’ desire to make cars appear lower and wider. They assist to compensate visually for pedestrian-protection regulations and other factors which may have raised cars’ front ends.
“You need to have some sort of detail to top off that dull space,” Mr. Thompson said.
The larger nostrils will make cars look more powerful, more sporty or even more elegant and provide common cues across a brand’s model lineup, much like grilles.
“They are getting more necessary for cooling and for aero as well,” Moray Callum, vice president for design at Ford, said in an interview during press previews for that auto show. “But also, they are getting more and more expressive because we are using every way we can to give a vehicle a little bit more of its own signature.”
A good example of such a signature could be purchased at Hyundai’s display at the Ny show. Among photos from the 2015 Sonata sedan that Hyundai released to the press was an unusual close-up of one of many car’s nostrils. It was carefully formed, accented with bright metal and bejeweled having a row of small lamps. Particularly unlike a similar view of the current Sonata, the vent exemplified the elegance and dignity that Chris Chapman, chief designer for Hyundai Design The United States, said were qualities from the car’s fresh look.
Often, larger nostrils are utilized to suggest increased power underneath the hood. The Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG coupe introduced in New York, as an example, displays wider nostrils, with a sweeping shape, than the basic S-Class. BMW has given its M high-performance models large nostrils, suggesting their additional horsepower. They also have fluid, horizontal shapes that imply a lower center of gravity and metaphorically suggest agility.
No marque has historically emphasized nostrils so much as Lamborghini, whose logo is really a bull with flaring nostrils and whose models have often been named after famous fighting bulls. Fittingly then, large, flared nostrils like those in the new Huracán are an important a part of the traditional Lamborghini face, Filippo Perini, the head of Lamborghini’s Centro Stile studio, said in an interview during the show.
The large double openings “are element of our design D.N.A.,” he said, adding: “We work with the face in the car first. We are always trying to offer to the car an expression with aface and eyes, nose. These let the car say for your needs, ‘I’m aggressive’ or ‘I’m polite.’ ”
In addition to brake and engine cooling, some nostrils direct air with the front wheel wells to lessen drag.
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There is considerable variety in how nostril designs are expressed. Many nostrils are faced with aggressive black mesh textures, although some are framed in chrome or increasingly these days accented with jewellike LEDs, often in a tube configuration. Bejeweled nostrils are seen in the Range Rover Evoque, for instance.
Sometimes what looks to be a nostril does not admit air whatsoever, but is given over to a lamp of some sort – or just a blacked-out panel. The chrome or lamp may change the design message of nostrils, indicating a more expensive model or trim level.
The latest vents make car faces more visually complex. Some nostrils echo the shapes of headlamps, like shadows or reflections. Several designers said that they had noted a tendency to use the top half of the car’s face for expression while the lower half is designed for function. The fronts of some BMWs are divided between a bright grille and headlamps within their upper half and darkened vents from the lower half.
Whether being a functional vent or simply a lamp holder, the nostril is a handy device for designers playing on resemblances within a brand family. For instance, various Buick models make extensive use of nostrils as accents, including the upright slash in the Regal GS’s aperture.
Judging from the cars at recent shows, there could be even bigger nostrils to come. As an example, the Toyota FCV, a design study for a future hydrogen fuel-cell car, has nostrils the size of a Lamborghini’s.