Safety has always been a factor in vehicle design. It took on a more critical role in the seventies, with regulations calling for the first 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers. Remember those beauties? That protruded about one foot from the front and rear? They coincided with the beginning of the end for British sports cars?
The engineering, and design communities have learned over the years, to incorporate safety considerations from the earliest concept stages of a design. Within a few years, as new vehicles came to market, the structure necessary to absorb the force of an 8 km/hr crash had been built into designs. Ugly bumpers were no longer a visual affront.
Computers came to the rescue.
Engineers could repeatedly, and digitally crash new designs. They could tweak the underlying structure accordingly. These virtual crashes proved exterior sheet metal plays little if any protective role in a crash. Armed with this knowledge, designers were able to shape the body more closely to the contours of the metal beneath.
The next hurdle was headlights. Whether round or rectangular they required a lot of real estate at the front of a vehicle. Technology to the rescue again. This time, it was the development of new lighting methods to replace the old tungsten bulb, and giant reflectors. Smaller, brighter, sources of light, concentrated, and aimed by precisely manufactured reflectors emerged. This allowed more light from smaller units. These new molded, and chromed units acted as rolling jewellery. They freed designers of size constraints, allowing lower and more adventurous styles. The latest development is LED headlights which are even smaller and can be arrayed to suit any design.
Designers have to take into account a huge number of factor other than looks.
Almost every new passenger vehicle in the world today has to be designed for manufacture and sale in global markets. Designs have to take into account a variety of safety and emission regulations. Thankfully there is harmony among most major markets regarding these standards.
The basic structure beneath the sheet metal for these new global platforms is shared. The pickup points for the suspension, passenger capsule, and windshield shape and location are common. Using those hard points, designers can come up with a variety of clothes for that skeleton.
With new safety issues constantly hanging over their heads, it’s back to the drawing boards – oops computer screens – for designers around the world.