As a dealership with regional reach, Audi Moncton takes trade-ins from Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. That means drilling holes, installing brackets, even changing fascias to accommodate the front licence plates required in New Brunswick.
“It’s $560 for a front plate bracket on Audi vehicles,” said general manager Scott Killen. “It’s not often we get to recoup that cost.”
When New Brunswick on July 15 joins the majority of Canadian provinces that require just rear plates, those bills will go away.
But it isn’t just the dealership savings that have Killen “extremely pleased” with the front marker’s demise.
“I’ve seen some of the prettiest front ends on vehicles in the world be ruined by a disproportionately-sized rectangular bracket and licence plate.”
Costs, aesthetics and increasing competition for front-end real estate in technology-laden vehicles could all lead to the end of front plates elsewhere. In three Canadian provinces and 31 U.S. states, the traditional front plate clings on.
“In our society, regulations die hard. Nobody wants to be the guy that took legislation away if something bad happens,” said Scott Anderson, a Ford Motor Co. designer and instructor at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies.
Ontario, among the Canadian holdouts, recently mused about dropping front plates to cut government costs.
Legislators quickly backed away when police warned that the move would hamper enforcement efforts. One concern: fewer targets for the automated licence-plate readers fitted to many police cruisers to spot wanted vehicles and suspended drivers.
Not consulted in the potential switch was the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA), representing 1,100 new-vehicle dealers in Ontario. Governmentrelations director Frank Notte said front plates are not a high priority issue for TADA. Still, he acknowledged they are a nuisance for dealers who must explain to buyers that they must be installed.
“In a perfect world we would like to see them gone, Notte said.
Designer Anderson says he deals with the challenge of front “plate pockets” almost weekly.
“It sounds like an obscure little detail, it seem like something you never really think about much, but it does cause a lot of pain and agony for lot of designers.”
Front plates almost always ruin the face of a car, he said, and their requirement in only some jurisdictions drives up costs for manufacturers in added complexity a parts numbers.
What could ultimately spell the end for the front plate is the frontal area needed for more air inlets, radar and lidar units and radiator shutters. Front ends must also be aerodynamic to save fuel.
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“The grilles become huge because you have all these technologies that must now placed in the nose of the car, said Anderson, who predicts even bigger issues as vehicles become fully autonomous an require still more sensors.
Industrial designer Miles Hammond suggests alternatives exist to ease police concerns about spotting suspect vehicles.
“There’s no reason why, if it became law tomorrow, that every car could not be fitted with an RFID (radio frequency identification),” said Hammond, whose Ottawa-based Studio 63 works with companies such as BlackBerry QNX to integrate technology with vehicles.
To Hammond, licence plates are an “archaic” form of communication.
But even as some provinces stay old school, Killen of Audi Moncton, part of New Brunswick’s Lounsbury Group, believes New Brunswick’s example could help spur changes.
“As provinces that require two plates switch to one plat it makes less and less sense” for two plates, he said. “Your argument holds less weight.”