Chevrolet Redesigned Its Commercial Truck Headlight In Such A Confusing Way I Had To Get Our Designer To Explain It To Me

Trucklights Top

Most mainstream car websites don’t spend much of their time on styling changes to commercial vehicles that are almost exclusively sold to fleet operators. And while I can understand that, I feel like it’s worth reminding you that we are not most mainstream car websites. We’re The Autopian, dammit, and sometimes that means I’m gonna pay attention to the things that seemingly nobody else seems to give a shit about, like the lighting design of the sorts of trucks usually used to replenish your local Wallgreen’s supply of Nyquil and tampons. These trucks are all over the visual background of our lives, so when there’s a design change, as there was for the 2023 Chevrolet Low Cab Forward (LCF), I think it’s worth addressing. And this one confused me.

It’s a minor change, but one that becomes more baffling the more you think about it. It’s a change in design to the front light units. Here’s the previous version of the LCF’s lights:

Lcf Old

See those lights? They’re tall, slanted-top corner units, with a square-ish headlight area at the bottom and that trapezoidal indicator up top, separated by that little grooved silver bar. They’re fine for this application, nothing too special, but they seem modern enough and fit the overall look.

Okay, here’s what they changed them to:

Untitled 14

Can you see that? Not really. COMPUTER! Zoom and ENHANCE!

Newones

Okay, so what’s going on here? They seem to have upgraded to a projector-type headlamp below, added what I think is an L-shaped DRL, and reduced the size of the turn indicator, and filled in the whole top with a weird gray angled blank panel. I get why they need that filler panel– they had to fit the existing hole – but why did they bother with any of this at all? 

It doesn’t look any better. They added a DRL, but really the turn indicator light could do that job, and likely has been doing it. Maybe that projector is a better light, but why couldn’t that have been fitted into the existing housing?

I’m confused why money was spent on this, and once I start thinking about it, I’m wondering why these light units have to be like this at all for a fleet commercial vehicle like this. Who does this help? Why can’t they just use cheap off-the-shelf sealed beams and indicators from some parts catalog? Who gives a shit? Am I the only sane person here anymore?

(breathes into bag)

I realized I didn’t just have to shout these questions into the aether; I had an aether-dwelling real designer just a Slack message away: our own ex-Land Rover designer Adrian Clarke! So, I made a mockup of my super-cheapo light unit idea, sent it off to him, and demanded, angrily, that he explain what the hell was going on with this confusing mess of a commercial truck lighting redesign precisely one metric nobody gives a shit about.

Incredibly, he gave me an answer:

The Professional Designer’s Take

Cast your frazzled brains back to when we designed our Cab Over pick up truck, and remember I talked about Chevrolet’s offering in the commercial market, the Low Cab Forward?

Don’t take your socks off, I’m about to knock them off for you. Because Chevrolet has flexed all its forward thinking design muscles to give the venerable work horse a substantial upgrade for 2023. Hold on, because this is exciting. I literally had to duct tape Torch to his overseer’s throne because he got so overstimulated.

It’s a new headlight cluster people!

And not only that, in typical GM fashion they’ve half assed it in the worst way possible. I mean, we’re all capable of half assing things from time to time (I mean, have you seen this website?). But only GM has truly mastered the art of putting a load of effort into making absolutely no effort whatsoever. How do they do it?

Here’s the previous headlight design:

Lcf Old

And here’s the new one:

Newones

Magnificently shit, isn’t it?

Headlights and taillights are just about the second most expensive component on any vehicle to tool up for, after the body in white. Each light costs a cool couple of million, especially now they have adaptive features and fancy start up animations when you unlock the vehicle. They also form a critical part of a vehicles identity when viewed from the front or rear, known in designer bullshit speak as the ‘Down the Road Graphic’ or DRG. So come facelift time, although they are expensive they are usually along with the front and rear bumper panels, the things that are changed, so everyone can tell it’s the upgraded model.

Because that’s exactly what you want on a working commercial truck, expensive dedicated parts on the vulnerable extremities. When the new driver you’ve just hired might be unfamiliar with the rear entrance of the local widget factory and whoopsie they crunch a corner, it’s new headlight time.

Except because of supply chain issues and chip shortages we might have a new headlight for you next week, sir. Days of downtime and additional expense because GM thinks having lights that can strip paint is better for your business than off-the-shelf replaceability. But GM are conscious of the cost of doing business. For themselves.

Look closely and you can see the top part of the new light isn’t a lens at all. It’s a silver blanking panel; that means they can use the existing body corner trim, saving them the cost of tooling up for a new part that fits the new headlight better. Genius. Sheer shitty looking genius.

Now, we’re nothing if not egalitarian here at The Autopian, so we’re gonna help GM out for free. After all who are we if we’re not in service of this colossus of American Capitalism? So I begrudgingly gave Torch the last unopened pack of dollar store felt tip coloring pens. As our resident lighting creative specialist (a real role that does actually exist – that’s how much importance OEMs place on lighting design) here’s what the lunatic came up with:

Mytake

As you can see, its simplicity is the hallmark of its genius. It uses an off-the-shelf sealed beam unit and round indicator, both of which you can probably purchase at any gas station [Editor’s Note: Some grocery stores, even – JT ] in America. And they’re neatly held in place by a matte-black fill panel that covers the existing hole. Probably made in polypropylene because that stuff will take a cack-handed licking without complaint.

No more downtime while you wait for GM logistics to get its shit together. A fleet manager with a functioning brain would just keep a shelf full of these cheap parts in stock, so after a driver’s excuse me that Low Cab Forward will be back out on the road earning its keep in no time.

Design is about judging what’s appropriate for a given problem and coming up with an appropriate solution. Obviously here GM wanted to maintain the existing corner body work, which is not unreasonable. This saves tooling up and a new piece cost, because the previous part was used for so long it was practically free.

Even given that constraint, their solution is a bit perplexing. It’s like they got so excited at saving money they splashed it on a fancy new headlight, and got so carried away they didn’t realize it wouldn’t fit. Then they had to hastily come up with a silver panel to plug the hole, meaning they had to make a new part anyway.

No designer stepped back from a clay model of this in the studio and thought “man, that is a nice piece of work.” More likely they were given the headlight and told to make it fit, while spending as little as possible (seriously, if you can get away without spending anything that’d be great). Sometimes on low priority stuff like this, that is actually what happens, and not only at GM.

 Back to me

Thank you, Adrian. I feel somewhat vindicated in my thinking here. If any vehicle would be just fine, if not even better served with cheap-ass sealed beams and parts-bin generic indicators, this is it. GM’s stupid new lights simply aren’t, as Adrian said, the appropriate solution for the job.

And, remember, this time it’s not just me kvetching! A professional is backing me up! And, with that kind of power, I’m confident that now GM will not give one single, solitary, lonely shit.

Oh well. We tried, truck fleet managers.

UPDATE: As some commenters pointed out this is a badge-engineered Isuzu truck, so it’s them we should be asking questions of. They’re still part of the greater GM umbrella, but Chevy shouldn’t get the heat here, Isuzu should.

And here’s how they explain the headlight update:

Exterior cab refresh: The cabs of all 2023 N-Series gas models will sport a new look with a standard matte-silver grille replacing the white grille of prior model years (a chrome grille remains optional); redesigner turn signals with accent brow; and bi-LED headlamps with signature light that deliver more light and less heat than halogen bulbs in both low- and high-beam modes.

Okay, so LED lights, less heat, and that thing on top is an “accent brow.” But you know what? You can get sealed beam lights with LEDs now. I’m still not convinced. I bet fleets would take cheap-to-replace over this any day.

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34 Responses

  1. Current-production sealed-beam headlights are absolute garbage, because the stamping dies wore out years ago and nobody wants to pay for new dies for an obsolete light. Nonetheless, there are LED drop-in replacements for standard form factor headlights (some great, most absolute junk) that would make this work.

      1. There’s some decent options out there for the 7″ round sealed beams that look traditional. I have a pair on my MGB that don’t look like they are LED when they are off. They don’t look like halogen when they are on, but they are so much better for driving at nighttime.

      2. I suppose the solution is just more frosted glass, or better refraction ridging on the inside of the lenses. I don’t get why they think looking cheap makes them look futuristic. They just look cheap, and that makes them look incredibly anachronistic.

  2. Isuzu, makers of the Chevy cab-forward truck, noted the headlight update in their press release as such:

    “Exterior cab refresh: The cabs of all 2023 N-Series gas models will sport a new look with
    a standard matte-silver grille replacing the white grille of prior model years (a chrome
    grille remains optional); redesigned turn signals with accent brow; and bi-LED
    headlamps with signature light that deliver more light and less heat than halogen bulbs
    in both low- and high-beam modes.”

    https://www.isuzucv.com/en/news/headlines?storyId=8551

    It appears they’re selling them as a brighter headlight with less heat. Brighter lights are much better from a safety perspective, and going to sealed beams would mean you’d get less light compared to the composite bucket. And heat is an interesting note. It’s possible that, as a cabover truck, the headlights were also acting as foot warmers. In warmer climates this might not be appreciated.

    1. “And heat is an interesting note. It’s possible that, as a cabover truck, the headlights were also acting as foot warmers. In warmer climates this might not be appreciated.”

      One thing that I’ve noticed in cold climates is that LED lights don’t melt snow or ice buildup, which means you need to keep them clean if you want to be able to see in winter.

  3. One thing to note is that the silver blanking panel isn’t the same shape as the old upper light (I think this was the turn signal). They tooled up new sheetmetal for this too!

    I suspect that the new headlight clusters are or will appear in other geographic regions on other vehicles, and that the new clusters are compliant with new regulations in some of those regions.

    1. Those front Cab corners might be plastic (maybe sheet molding compound or whatever they use for that stuff) but your point is still valid. old one straight across the top, new one curves.

      Since it’s a new panel on the corner, I think it would have looked better to chop that 3rd section off the top. That would have been an improvement over the old version.

    1. It loads fast enough for me *eventually*, but there is a ten second lag from me clicking on something, to the article loading. I’m pretty sure this is because I’m geographically a long way away from the server (I’m guessing is on the west coast of the US?), and you can’t cheat the laws of physics.
      I just open several articles at a time, so they load in the background.

  4. Any chance those ‘accent brows’ are going to become sensors in a future model? So, they’ve made the change now so the physical space has been allocated, and a later update will repurpose that silver triangular ‘brow’ into some sort of …thing… for …..ADAS…..or something…. I don’t know how any of that works, but I know we’ve got weird blanks in taillight assemblies now on RAMs for stuff like that now.

  5. This is the gold that makes me love this website. Thanks folks.

    As the fleet guy at my company, this new headlight sucks. The old ones took a beating, and were cheap and common. I wonder if the old headlight assemblies will fit on the new trucks… I imagine they changed all the wiring connections.

    1. Just read the rest of the comments and saw the slight change in shape! So much for backwards compatibility. Can’t believe they bothered to retool the sheet metal and still kept this classic shape.

  6. The new design looks so much better, and definitely more modern. While Torch’ suggestion looks like something out of North Korea. Or a junkyard scavenger hunt.

    I don’t buy that fleet owners don’t care about design. Well, current customers may not care too much, but I bet prospective ones, if given the choice, prefer to put their company logo on a vehicle their customers and the general public perceives, even unconsciously, as modern and fresh over dated and stale.

    Torch, I dare you to go ask Adrian to look you in the eyes and say, with a straight face, that design has no influence whatsoever on customers. Even fleet operators. Then report back to us.

    1. I’m sure it depends on the company, but I work in a fleet department, we’ve got a handful of cube trucks, and our concerns are mostly 1) can we get trucks?, 2) are they cheap to own?, and once we have them 3) are they presentable and road legal? Running around with bent bumpers or rust or whatever looks bad on us, but sealed beams don’t.

  7. Looks like they likely redesigned the front headlights and the corner trim on the cab in order to align it with the grille and make it look more like the current Chevrolet design language of hard geometric scallops. Also to waste a few tens of thousands of projectors they had lying around after nuking the Buick Enclave’s projectors and moving to LEDs last year. It seriously looks like the same ones, replete with the crystalline blue finish.

  8. I drive Toyota’s equivalent of a LCF (a Hino 195) every day at work, and after thinking about it for a bit I’ve decided you’re both wrong. GM’s redesign may be half-assed, but it’s still an improvement—and switching to standard sealed beams would be terrible. Here’s why:

    As a box truck driver, I don’t give a shit about what my vehicle looks like, short of it being so filthy and ratty that it looks unprofessional when I pull up to a customer’s house. That “accent brow” is stupid, but it’s also irrelevant. It may also go away when the vehicle next gets a redesign—they may change the bodywork but keep the light cluster, minus the brow. Again though, it’s irrelevant.

    What is *super* relevant though is nighttime visibility. I don’t know how much experience you have driving these things, but they are huge and they are slow. My only tool for avoiding an accident is to be able to look far down the road (all around me, really) and anticipate what is about to happen. Is that dog walker about to step into the street without looking? Is that Corolla six cars up about to stray from its lane and sideswipe someone? Is there a gang of turkeys coming around the corner at me? (No really, turkey gangs are a serious hazard.) My ability to evade or even stop short is extremely limited, nor do I have any kind of ADAS to help me out, so the Mark 1 Eyeball is my only defense.

    That means that “headlights that can strip paint” are *exactly* what I need in the winter months, when the sun doesn’t come up until after I reach the jobsite, and goes down again before I start heading back to the shop. Sealed beam headlamps suck ass—LED projectors would be fantastic. True, you can replace sealed beams with LED equivalents, and you do see some older trucks rolling around like that, but I’m doubtful that I’d ever convince my fleet manager to shell out for ones that are as good as those factory projectors. If they come with the truck though, then it’s just a matter of whether or not the truck is expensive enough overall to make us switch brands—not something fleets do lightly.

    There’s also the matter of DOT certification. Lots of grey-area stuff that would be a complete non-issue on a passenger car could get my company in bug trouble on a commercial vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,000 lbs. The DOT employs its own dedicated police force to look for commercial trucks that are in violation, and they *will* stop you if they think you’re out of compliance. I have to stop at weigh stations, as well. Do you think all those cheap multiple-diode-array sealed beam replacements are certified? I kind of doubt it.

    Lastly, while these kinds of trucks do indeed get banged up, I’ve never seen someone smash the lower front corner of the cab. In a cab-forward truck like that, the driver’s side headlamp is basically right next to your left foot, and the passenger side is similarly easy to locate. It’s child’s play to know where the corners of the cab are, plus there’s a sturdy steel bumper up there in case you still manage to fuck it up. All the bumps and scrapes happen out back, especially if you have a box truck, because the box is much taller and wider than the cab and much harder to see. (The top front corners in particular are actually impossible to see, no matter how you configure your mirrors or crane your head.) The classic mistake is to assume that just because the cab fits, the whole truck will fit. The other classic mistake is to forget that you have ten feet of truck behind the rear wheels, which will swing right when you turn left and vice versa. Besides, if you *do* manage to somehow smash a headlight, that’s what insurance is for. It’s pretty low on the probability list though, as far as Oopsies are concerned.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts as a driver of one of these kinds of trucks. I don’t care what they look like, I want the brightest headlights I can reasonably get, the cost is actually not such a big deal, and I’m unlikely to smash one anyway. Bring on those LED projectors, half-assed though they may be.

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