Variable Degrees of Transparency

New materials are allowing greater experimentation within auto design

Car door panels and fenders are generally made of steel, sometimes of aluminum or plastic composites, and you can't see through them. Car windows, on the other hand, are made of a transparent sandwich of glass and plastic—and you can see through them. But in the future there will be variable degrees of transparency: translucent elements where once there were none, traditional window areas that will have opaque elements and graduated progressions from opaque to see-through. This was evidenced on the Bertone-designed Lancia Sibilo concept from 1978, which had a dark brown body feathered into a heavily tinted glasshouse.

For the most part this new trend for translucency will be afforded by new polycarbonate plastics from suppliers such as Freeglass and Sabic Innovative Plastics (formerly GE Plastics). Several production cars already such have plastic glazing elements, the European market Honda Civic has a plastic glazing element as the lower part of the rear window, and the European market SEAT Leon has a plastic third side light incorporating a recess for the hidden rear door handle. Roof glazing is the next major area that is likely to feature plastic composites, as the intrinsic weight saving has such a particular benefit on the car's center of gravity.

But we will soon see more translucencies in cars driven by design, not just technical possibility. Translucency has the potential to make a more distinctive design and to offer new user benefits, such as enabling the driver to see the curb when parking, see through pillars when making lane changes and also enable children and shorter occupants to better see out of cars. There are a host of far more appealing ideas which can be incorporated as well.

These concepts illustrate just the 'tip of the iceberg', but there will be a multitude of new and creative translucent solutions provided by variable degrees of translucency, far more than the practical benefits of new glazing applications.

View several recent concept cars that show how Design has innovated using variable degrees of translucency.

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