MAN Truck & Bus
You will doubtlessly already know: a formidable vehicle appears in your rear-view mirror on the motorway – you intuitively make space for it. The experts call this the “overtaking prestige” effect. The vehicle overtakes before you ask yourself why you immediately got out of its way. You were probably subconsciously influenced by its fierce, aggressive look. Dot, dot, comma, line or also headlights, radiator grille and bumper: this combination reminds us instinctively of a face – and faces are enormously important to us humans. That’s why we constantly scan our surroundings and discover them in places where they do not exist: in clouds, in a piece of Emmental cheese or even in the front of a car. Vehicle designers take advantage of this phenomenon of perceptual psychology. They deliberately make cars, trucks or buses look friendly, reliable or even aggressive. Headlights are therefore one of the elements to which vehicle designers devote special attention. Car manufacturers in particular invest millions of euros in new headlights. Some employ entire design departments that focus solely on the design of headlights and tail lights.
This would have been unthinkable for most up until the 1970s. Although vehicles had faces back then, they were by far not as characteristic as they are today. It's not surprising because many vehicle manufacturers used the same headlight models. Namely, the ones that suppliers could deliver off-the-shelf. Even today, there are of course vehicles, especially commercial vehicles, with supplier headlights. Usually the manufacturers are simply unable or unwilling to incur the high costs for the development.
This is almost unthinkable these days for well-known brands that make a specific quality promise. They place great importance on characteristic headlights. Lutz Fügener chairs the course in transportation design at Pforzheim University and has already worked for various vehicle manufacturers. He knows manufacturers’ motives: “Headlights are not just there to emit light”, he states. “For brands, it is extremely important that they stand out and are recognised – also through distinctively shaped headlights. Of course, headlights can also help overall to give the vehicle a modern and attractive look.”
The topic is also becoming increasingly important for manufacturers of commercial vehicles. Stephan Schönherr, Head of Bus Design at MAN, his bus team and the MAN Truck design team have invested a lot of time in the development of headlights and tail lights in recent years. A mammoth task. Ultimately, there are various lighting elements on vehicles that have to fulfil different functions. These include the sidelights, dipped headlights and full beam headlights, the indicator lights, the daytime running lights and, for long vehicles like buses, also for example, the side indicators, position lights and various types of marker lights. “But it is well worth the effort”, considers Stephan Schönherr, and a mistake with the headlights and tail lights is also not without risk. If a vehicle looks or appears odd, indifferent or abnormal, damage to the company image and economic losses are inevitable. Customers and passengers want to associate buses that are used for people with something positive and attractive.
The product designer is responsible for the MAN and NEOPLAN bus design. He and his team have won many awards with the designs, such as the iF Design Award, the Red Dot Design Award and the German Design Award. In his private life, Stephan Schönherr likes to surround himself with design classics and enjoys jaunts through the foothills of the Alps in his 1972 Ford Mustang classic car.
The industrial designer chairs the course in transportation design at Pforzheim University. As co-owner of Studio FT, he works for various vehicle manufacturers. In his free time, he likes to work on cars, motorbikes and racing bikes and takes part in the 24-hour cycle race at the Nürburgring race track each year.
Stephan Schönherr, who has worked as a designer at MAN for 22 years, also knows of course about the risks and opportunities associated with the facial expression. “Designing headlights and vehicle lights requires a lot of creativity”, he states. “Because there are numerous lighting regulations and cost targets that specify where the different headlights need to be positioned. In addition, we have our own corporate identity guidelines. There is not much scope for expansive design ideas. But specifically finding and exploiting this scope requires a particularly high degree of creativity – this makes the task so exciting”, he states. In order to absolutely ensure that their ideas also have the desired effect, the MAN designer teams work not only with 3D programs on the computer but also with1:1 models that are used in turn in bus models that are true to the original size. Of course, it is not just designers that are involved in the process, but virtually all the departments in the company: from electrical, engineering and sales to purchasing, financial controlling and production.
Many vehicle manufacturers have placed a special focus on the so-called night signature in recent years, i.e. on the impact of a vehicle during the hours of darkness. “This development was triggered by BMW's angel eyes”, recalls Lutz Fügener. “For the first time, ring-shaped sidelights were used that gave the cars a somewhat unique look, even at night. This was actually a kind of positive side effect. The idea was discovered only because the design team wanted to keep the front of the vehicle flat for aerodynamic reasons.” In subsequent years, various other manufacturers followed and began to look for suitable unique light signatures for their brand: from striking headlights and patterns in the headlights to moving perimeter lights. MAN has also invested a lot of time in its night signature of the night design when redesigning its headlights and tail lights in recent years. The results include lines in the main headlights that are reminiscent of eyeliner, the “blazing beams”, as well as aesthetically striking tail lights. “Strip lights that shine so brightly that they satisfy the requirements for daytime running lights are a relatively new option”, explains Stephan Schönherr. They have given him and his team new creative scope for buses – that is plain to see.