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April 20, 2006

Accord's Impala Fanny-Lift

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Car makers usually keep the same body/platform in production for at least four years before going on to a total redesign.

But the car-buying public tires of a design after a few years, so automobile companies will "freshen" the design by making changes here and there. If a car is doing well, such changes will be minimal (the Nissan Altima had only some little bumps added to the grille bars to keep sales flowing until a new body arrives at dealers later this year). And if the car is in trouble or the company is awash in spare cash, the changes will be more drastic and costly. Either way, these styling modifications are known in the industry as a "facelift."

A recent facelift that interests me is the changes Honda made to its Accord sedan. Rather than changing the front end, modifications focused on the rear of the car -- which is why I put the term "fanny-lift" in the title of this post.

(Years ago when the term "facelift" was first applied to cars, most automobiles had fancy front ends and rather plain rears; I'm thinking pre-1955. The styling focus was the front of the car, especially the grille. And it was the grille part of the car's "face" that tended to get changed.)

I suppose the rear design of Accords was criticized by car shoppers. It was different from most other cars and Honda probably decided to bring the styling into line with industry practice. I found the result amusing, as we shall now see.


2003 Accord - rear.jpg
Honda Accord sedan for 2003.
This is the original rear end. Yes, it's a little fussy, but I think the slightly V'd shape of the lower tail light area is distinctive and attractive in its way.

2006 Accord - rear.jpg
Honda Accord sedan for 2006.
Here is the result of the facelift. It's a much cleaner design, which is supposed to be a Good Thing according to the ideology of Industrial Design. I find it bland. Moreover ....

2006 impala - rear.jpg
Chevrolet Impala sedan for 2006.
Chevrolet's new Impala has a rear that's similar to that of the Accord -- note the tail-lights. It's also bland, of course, but it blends better with the rest of the car. I think the new Impala is the most appealing standard sedan Chevrolet has made in years.

The general shape of the new Accord and Impala tail-lights is nothing new: some Mercedes sedans have sported something similar for a while. Whereas I like the Impala's styling, including the tail-lights, I find the fanny-lifted Accord disappointing. The revamped stern sucks all character out of the car. Worse, when I see a new Accord from the rear, I don't think "Honda" or "Accord." That's a marketing failure in my book, but maybe I'm wrong and sales will soar.

This whole episode makes one wonder if Chevrolet and Honda stylists were meeting at the same bar (a Sushi bar?) while working on 2006 models? Probably not: my take is the the good ol' zeitgeist was working its usual magic.

Still, I'm almost willing to bet that Honda and Chevy stylists had to do a lot of 'splaining to Management last fall when the 2006s first hit the showrooms.



posted by Donald at April 20, 2006


The Impala 2006 tail lights look like the Honda Prelude tail lights of yesteryear. It looks like Honda is keeping it in the family, but Chevy is the one doing the poaching.

Posted by: JM on April 20, 2006 1:00 PM

Honda can afford to play around with the Accord's styling because it's a big seller and the company's financial position is so strong. GM and Ford have much less ability to take big risks.
Speaking of rear-end designs, the other day I saw the rear end of a newly redesigned Toyota Camry as it passed me, and at first glance I thought it was a hugely expensive BMW 7-series.

Posted by: Peter on April 20, 2006 2:24 PM

I'm an owner of a 2005 Accord sedan, which has taillights similar to the 2003 model. I wasn't crazy about the 2003 tail design, which looked too much like a Buick (never a compliment). The 2004-05 design improved things by eliminating the bottom white strip and replacing it with a little white center bottom square, which I thought was pretty attractive and in line with the rest of the car's styling, and made it attractive enough to buy. The new accord taillight tries to address the fact tat the rear end still looked kind of heavy. Unfortunately, the rest of the rear changed as well, looking more angular. The look of the car doesn't flow togther, and looks very choppy as if designed by committee.

The Impala steals a lot of its design from the Accord, including the general shape and side body bulge. The triangular tail design has also appears on the Accord Coupe for a while, so the Chevy folks likely took it from there. It seems out of keeping with the Chevy taillight design language, which favors a double circle (cf the previous Impala, Corvette and Cobalt). I'd agree that the overall design is pretty tasteful for a GM sedan.

The Toyota Camry redesign is much less dull than previous generations. Also, the new 2008 Altima backside looks fantastic, Audi-like.

Posted by: wph on April 20, 2006 4:20 PM

What are these huge triangular taillights intended to do -- warn of nuclear attack? They're not just over-emphatic from a design standpoint, but can be distracting if you're right behind them, especially at night.

Combining Texas-size taillights with a spoiler that would test an Olympic pole vaulter is enough to make me nostalgic for the quiet tastefulness of the '59 Caddy tailfins.

Posted by: Rick Darby on April 21, 2006 11:04 AM

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