Auto Tech

The tail fin is back (but now it's a blade)

BEIJING -- Tail fins are making a comeback at General Motors Co., although they are a far cry from the saillike appendages of the 1950s. And this time the company is calling them blades.

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  • Automotive News
Hans Greimel/Automotive News
Chevrolet Volt MP5 concept
General Motors showed off its mpg-boosting Chevrolet MPV5 concept, with its sharply creased edges at the rear, at the Beijing auto show. Hans Greimel/Automotive News

Automotive News

BEIJING -- Tail fins are making a comeback at General Motors Co., although they are a far cry from the saillike appendages of the 1950s. And this time the company is calling them blades.

The look, pioneered on the Chevrolet Volt to improve aerodynamics, will appear on other models to boost fuel economy, said Ed Welburn, GM's global design chief.

"The blades in the rear, the hard edges, you'll see on other cars," Welburn said in an interview at the Beijing auto show. The blades will be more overt on Chevy models -- hybrid or otherwise, he said. But they also will be carried over into other GM brands in a more subtle way.

On the Volt, the blades appear as sharply creased edges at the tail. Their purpose is to smooth the airflow so that it breaks cleanly and continues straight behind the car, instead of curling behind it in a jumble of turbulence that increases drag.

Improving aerodynamics added six to seven miles to the Volt's range, helping it reach its 40-mile distance on the battery alone. Now GM wants to apply the styling lessons to other cars as automakers race to meet fuel economy regulations.

"Now that the Volt is going into production, ... we can start to explore not just how that design will evolve but if there's something else that might utilize the same technology," Welburn said. Toned-down blades are already used on the Chevy Tahoe hybrid SUV, he pointed out.

The blades are featured prominently on the MPV5 concept. The five-seat electric crossover, based on the Volt, made its global debut here at the auto show. The blades also appear on the Cadillac Converj, a two-seater also based on the Volt's plug-in technology.

For the next-generation Volt, some overall styling points may change, Welburn said. Improved aerodynamics and a roomier interior are two possible upgrades.

But the distinctive black beltline trim along the bottom of the side windows is likely to remain because it broadcasts the car's electric drivetrain. The car probably also will keep its Chevy grille look to bolster brand identity.

"Having it as a halo car," he said, works only "if it is recognized as a Chevrolet."

(Source: Automotive News)