Buick gave us all a little surprise when, instead of just showing us the Opel droptop they worked so hard to re-badge, they pulled this lovely and striking concept car out of their ass/Holden division in Australia. It's an impressive bit of design that's already ruined the trousers of one of our writers, but the real story is inside.
I'm not saying the exterior is bad at all — it's quite lovely, with classic proportions, some really elegant sculptural work, and an ass that references possibly the most striking Buick ever, the boat-tail Rivera. But let's also be honest, here — it's not that radically different from other modern, full-sized sedan concepts we've seen, though this one does have those Buick speed-holes.
But the key things about the Avenir that I think are interesting, and potentially radical aren't actually all that flashy, or even instantly noticeable. In some ways, they're elements of this radical show car that have the most reasonable chance of making it into production cars, because they're just new ways of looking and dealing with the same crap we already have.
The first is plastic.
Now, we all know plastics are crucial to building modern cars, and yet they're also some of the least-respected materials in a car. It's never a compliment to refer to a car par as "plasticky" and there's whole departments in car companies dedicated to making plastic look and feel like something other than plastic.
That's why I really like what was done with the centerpiece of the dash of the Avenir: where most car companies making a premium, dramatic concept car would have pulled out some exotic material — a nice big slab of wood, carbon fiber, machine-turned aluminum, leather, petrified mammoth meat slabs, whatever, the Avenir is using a large, plastic panel, and that plastic panel is not trying to fool you into thinking its anything else.
It's not a simple plastic slab, of course — it's a semi-transparent panel that has a pattern carved into its rear surface that looks like frozen crystal math. Fractals and algorithms rendered as waves, with depth and reactive to light and dimensional. It's all on the back of the panel, leaving the front face glossy and smooth. It's lovely.
More importantly, it has that ineffable feeling of "premium" even though this is not actually an expensive part to make: it's just cast plastic, like you'd find on almost any entry-level car. The difference here is that it's been subjected to some really artful and engaging design.
What I love is that it's plastic getting a chance to be the centerpiece of a premium car with no subterfuge or shame. Plastic was the best material to execute this design, and it's mass produced like any Lego brick, but who cares? It works. And it is premium, maybe not for the material itself, but for the design work that went into creating it.
Plastic has dignity, and it's time that was appreciated in high-end cars. This could be implemented at any time, by almost any car maker bold enough to step away from the over-glossed wood and fake leather and all the other crap in the endless sea of charcoal-grey dashboards.
And, that artful design is the other key detail that technically would cost nothing more and yet add so much to cars. I spoke with the two women (one American, one Australian) who headed the color and design team responsible for these details, and they told me the basic design was inspired by the interaction of waves when they hit the shore, creating these cross-hatched wave-like designs.
What works well on the Avenir is that they took this basic design theme and implemented it all over the car in subtle and consistent ways that create a really cohesive design vocabulary for everything. It's inset into the headlights and taillights, where it looks great, and shows up in 3-dimensional form in that big plastic dash panel, as well as on the center console and in the stitching of the seats, door panels, and trim parts.
This sort of attention to a consistent design detail doesn't require special tooling or radical changes in production — it can be done right now. And, on some cars, it already is. In a very different way, the Jeep Renegade has a nice tight and bold design vocabulary and theme that is carried throughout the car, from taillights to door handles to all kinds of other details.
It works, and the key to this working is find something engaging and really commit to it. Buick did it here to great effect, and I hope to see ideas like this happen— hell this very design motif would be a great visual theme for the entire Buick lineup, done properly.
So, let's recap: I'm excited that plastic is could finally and truly be allowed into the pantheon of Things Rich Guys Should Touch, since it absolutely deserves that. And I'm taken by the fundamentally simple idea of having a consistent, effective design vocabulary and theme for a given car, since I think these sorts of details are becoming more and more important to differentiate cars.
I even think this after hearing a Buick exec say the phrase "details to flow like music," which made me want to puke, a little.