This trend is only a relatively recent phenomenon but everytime I see a vent on a modern car, it is nearly always a non-functional device designed to hold an indicator lamp.
Fender vents like those on the Holden HG Monaro and the classic Aston Martin DB4 actually served a purpose in releasing hot air from the high pressure zone inside the fenders aiding cooling and reducing drag.
Here are a few examples:
The Starter Button
Probably the wankiest of all ideas in recent times. I can understand a seperate starter button in a race car, where all the electrical circuits are isolated from each other to reduce the chances of failure. But why does a car like the Jaguar XK8 need a big red starter button?
Jaguar XK8 Cockpit
What was wrong with a single hand needed to put the key in the ignition and twist it? Was it really that hard?
They have gone backwards in adding a starter button to most cars, starting your car has gone from a single hand, single motion action, to a two hand, two motion action. Even worse is the completely ostentatious starter buttons that are starting to turn up in cars like the new Ford Mondeo.
Ford Mondeo Starter Button
Clear tail lights
The Lexus IS200, or Altezza in Japan, was the first car to come with clear tail lights. In certain colours like silver or black the clear tail lights looked okay, but when you moved to white, in particular, the tail lights just seemed to blend in and ruin the look of a decent looking car.
I don't blame Toyota for this fad, I blame this one on the aftermarket 'tuners' and their quest to turn something gimmicky into a fad. And then I blame car manufacturers for thinking they needed to use clear tail lights to appeal to the younger demographic. There are some absolutely horrid examples of OEM clear tail lights:
I won't go into the 3rd party clear tail lights, because they are usually much worse than an OEM attempt. If you want to see some crappy clear tail lights, just go to SEMA's website.
If you haven't seen a Bangle-butt up close, you have yet to see one of the worst pieces of design ever to occur on an automobile. A Bangle-butt is defined by the bootlid being much higher than the rear guards with a squared off edge to both the boot and rear guard, creating a stacked appearance. The best (worst) eaxample of the Bangle-butt is the BMW 6-series. Here it is:
As with the clear tail lights, I really don't mind if a single car or manufacturer has a bad or ugly design theme. What I do mind is when other manufacturers pick up on that bad design and apply it to their cars. In this case, the Bangle-butt has been used by Mercedes, Toyota and Honda. The sooner the Bangle-butt has a thighplasty, the better.
A good car design is all about getting the right proportions between the different parts of the car. The Ferrari 250GT, Jaguar E-type and Datsun 240Z are perfect examples of getting the bonnet length and rear overhang proportions just right.
But there seems to be a fad running through car designers that are having a competition at our expense. They seem to be trying to make the headlights on cars as big as possible whilst still making sure they sell.
Way back when, a headlight had a purely functional purpose. All it did was provide light and concessions were made in body shapes to accomodate this important piece of equipment. But over time, as with all other parts of a car, the headlight has become another piece in the stylists and designers little box of tricks.
The first car that came to mind with oversized headlights was the Honda Fit/Jazz:
Look at the size of those headllights. They nearly go all the way to the back of the bonnet. Admittedly, the bonnet is pretty small, but those lights are still huge. The last Celica is another good example of headlights that have grown too big for their britches:
Both of the examples shown are pretty girly cars (yes, the Celica is a girly car and has been for 20 years). Just like the way that females find big baby seal eyes to be cute, it may just be working on these cars. I don't care, I hate them.