Learn to Speak Auto Designers’ Lingo

When you go to auto shows, you do not use dashboard to mean the vehicle’s instrument panel. This is because you might be misleading other people. Dropping layman’s terms is easy but you will get plus points if you speak the designer’s tongue.

Each profession has its lingo. And for one to be better understood he must know the common terms or at least a few of the most colorful words used by experts. In the automotive world, metal and words unite. And auto brand’s vocabulary is known as the colorful realm of design language.

The beltline separates the greenhouse, or glassed-in upper body, from the part that widens down from the window sills. Michael Castiglione, the principal exterior designer at DaimlerChrysler’s Pacifica studio in Carlsbad, Calif., said that equally important is the A-line. The A-line is the length of the vehicle’s body from headlight to taillight. The vehicle may also have a crease created in the sheet metal of the sides called the character line.

Styling cues are also used to prompt recognition of a particular model to other product lines of the same brand. The cues include the curve of the roofline, the distinct design of the grille, as well as the shapes and lines of the vehicle.

The angle of the windshield called rake could convey different meaning. It is said to be fast when it extremely tilts. The rocker panel which is the body section below the base of the door is treated with a varying degree of turn-under. Chris Chapman of BMW’s Designworks studio in Newbury Park, Calif., defines it as the shape of the panel as it curves inward at the lower edge.

Stance tells you whether the auto sits on the wheels with superb energy or not. Robert Boniface, the director of advanced design for General Motors, recently worked on the Chevrolet Volt and the Camaro show cars. He said that “stance has to do with the relative visual stability or instability of a particular design.”

According to Bryan Thompson, the designer at the Nissan Design America studio in La Jolla, Calif., another essential relationship is that one found between the glass and the body. “A vehicle whose body is relatively thick compared to the amount of glass is called chunky. The proportion between wheel and body sizes is important in lending a vehicle its visual personality,” he said.

Thompson added, “Wheel-to-body is the relationship of the wheel-tire plane to the sheet metal wheel opening. Wheels that are flush to the body are desirable. Wheels that are well inboard of the sheet metal plane are buried. Vehicles with buried wheels are called overbodied. At its extreme, an overbodied car has the look of a parade float, with the body visually overpowering the wheels.”

Peter Davis, the director of interior design at General Motors, said the space between wheel and surrounding fender or wheel well suggests the jounce of the car. The intervening space between tire and wheel well is sometimes called the dead cat hole. He described the British-sounding mucketts as “complicated rubber moldings that hide nasty window-door frame areas or direct water drips to appropriate places.” “In Italy,” he added, “what we call the plenum, the area at the base of the windshield where the wipers sit and run off is directed is called the vasca di pesce, or fish bowl.”

Another term to define the personality of the car is its axle-to-dash ratio, the proportion between the front wheel and the cowl or the base of the windshield. There is also what is dubbed the roller skate effect. It happens when the tires and wheels are too small for the body.

There are so many terms in the auto industry realm. And it is an edge on your part to know them all. The next time you purchase EBC Greenstuff or other auto parts, you will not be surprised to hear those terms.