When I was a kid, my parents had a 1957 Chevy.
It wasn't a collectors item (and I'm not that old), but rather was something they got from a relative for not much money, and it was big enough for our large family.
As car folks may know, to put gas in the tank of a '57 Chevy, you flipped open a hinged bit of chrome tail fin exterior trim to find it neatly hidden away. I remember the family pulling up to a gas station one time and having the poor kid working at the pumps (OK, I'm old enough to remember when every gas station had someone to pump the gas for you) search high and low to access the tank. After my Dad got out and showed him, the kid walked slowly around the car seeing if any other bits of chrome flipped open.
I mention the Chevy because at the press preview of the North American International Auto Show last week, I spotted a couple of my fellow news folks having fun accessing the port on the front of Audi's plug-in electric vehicle where you attach the electric cables to charge it up.
It's a big advanced from that chrome hinge, of course, and nicely masked behind the plastic Audi logo on the grille at the front of the car.
Hidden behind the rings is a small plastic mechanism. Flip from horizontal to vertical, and the trim pops up and swings silently to the left to expose the plug. Guide it back and flip the switch to horizontal again, and it's hidden away.
It's not the only time plastic trim has hidden a key bit of automotive technology. The Leaf, Nissan's electric car, also has its plug behind a badge that flips open at the front of the car. And automakers are increasingly hiding radars and other sensors behind unpainted plastic trim.
But Audi's packaging was especially eye catching, with smooth mechatronic movements that showed just how well it was made and how well it was designed to be an integral part of the final vehicle.
“I don't know who made it,” said one former supplier when I pointed it out to him, “but it's pretty cool.”
Maybe it's not '57 Chevy cool, but it's certainly something fun to show off.
Check out the video below, with a little assist from Automotive News' Dave Guilford, to see it for yourself.