Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Quick Thoughts: Death of the Plunging Shoulder

About 7 years ago, if my recollection is correct, we saw the beginnings of a design trend that would take the automotive industry by storm. The progenitor was the Mercedes Vision CLS Concept and the feature was a dramatic, plunging shoulder line that caused some to comment, unfairly in my opinion, that the car looked like a pressed steel banana.

Despite the common name that would be ascribed to the feature, it was actually an ascending shoulder that whipped from the from wheel arch and arced gracefully rearwards. Did it have it’s genesis in the Triumph TR-7? Thankfully, we’ll probably never know and in any case only the most ardent – and odd – automotive design watchers would ever try to make the link…

No matter, it was a cunning stylistic trick that allowed the Vision CLSs designers to add a wonderful sense of forward motion to the niche-defining 4-door coupe, simultaneously breaking up what would have otherwise been a rather ponderous body section. As sure as the Vision CLS became the production CLS, the plunging shoulder spread like wildfire throughout other brands’ studios, attaching with limpet-like tenacity to anything and everything concept and production designers sketched.

If the CLS was the original and the best interation of the distinctive feature, Mercedes scored a home-goal with the F700 – surely the nadir of plunging shoulderieness- while Hyundai, oft the flatterer of the sincerest kind, is having one of the last laughs with the 2010 Sonata. Hardly surprising, really, as I recall the effect the CLS had on that vehicle’s lead designer as he schooled me back in 2004…

Now, almost 7 years on, it’s hard not to feel a little… well… over the plunging shoulder and it seems to be in the final throes of death at the hands of numerous Chinese knock-offs.

But fear not, avid body section fanatics, a saviour – of sorts – is emerging, helping designers everywhere break up slab sides and add visual interest. I honestly don’t know what to call it but will settle on open ended door scallop for now. While it certainly doesn’t have the drama of a plunging shoulder, either in name or visual effect, it appears to be with us for the time being.

I first noticed it on the GMC Granite (which has the most “designed” version)…

then on the Peugeot SR1 (in true French tradition, seemingly the most superfluous-but-interesting iteration)…

and finally on the new Kia Sportage which predates both the concepts (does this make Kia a trend-setter?).

However the open-ended door scallop develops, it will be interesting to see how designers manage the odd, real-world  flow of light that it has the potential to generate. If you’re keen to hop on board, I know a master in breaking rules around light flow and his non-compete should be about to expire…

Category: Car, Design

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3 Responses

  1. Massimo says:

    The fact that CLS ( and in to a certain extend the F700) looks forward motion, it not related only to the so called plunging shoulder line (banana shape).

    They look forward motion because of how the plunging shoulder integrates and merges with the rear wheelarch and ultimately how the wheelarch takes the highlight.

    It is in fact the mix of a curve and an highlight that make that motion. Think about it if is forward leaning, it must be compare something.

    In fact the 2010 Sonata (basically Korean back to be korean), does not work in the same way simply because the overly sculpted banana shape produces a SHADOW, that overcast the highlights of the wheelarch, and the car loses completely the forward motion. This is a fine tuning work.

    And fine tuning is something not for everybody.

    And also please forget this new things as you call it open ended door scallop; that’ is not fine tuning, and neither sculpting.


    and an AXE does not have nothing artistic and neither poetic.

    If that’s is the new trend…bring back your master…because although i don’t like it…he is much better than these AXE Barbarians…

  2. Drew says:

    Hear hear Max!

    Fantastic contribution as usual. Your knowledge of the finer points of surface sculpture always has me in raptures and this time is no exception.

    I would agree with you that the axe wounds are mostly horrific, the Granite being the worst of a pretty average bunch.

    Marc Newson once quipped that the BMW Z4 looked like it had been styled with a machete… far better that, in my books, than an axe and a baseball bat.

  3. […] I’ve previously said, Hyundai is often a flatterer of the sincerest kind. It’s just that their concepts have always been deeply innovative, utilising new materials […]

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.