Electric vehicle designers have a new canvas on which to mark their brand image: the front end.
Since EVs don’t contain hot combustion engines, they don’t need the grilles that have shaped the look of autos for decades, with large air vents to cool what’s behind them.
EVs present the industry with a fundamental change in design because electric motors require far less space, and batteries are placed low on a skateboard platform, leaving room for more flexible interior and exterior designs. Some of the key “hard points” that define internal combustion cars, particularly the engine compartment, are now fair game for experimentation on EVs.
The question facing automakers now is what to do with all the new design space.
Not surprisingly, they disagree.
“With reduced cooling needs, an EV’s grille can be more about form than function,” said Karl Brauer, a veteran auto analyst and executive publisher at CarExpert. “That widens the EV designer’s options, but it doesn’t reduce the importance of a grille’s design, as that area can still make or break an overall look.
“I’ve seen EVs with, essentially, no grille, and I don’t think that’s the smart way to go,” he said. “A grille can provide both character and distinctiveness to a vehicle’s appearance. The lack of any grille squanders the opportunity to enhance those areas.”
The coming Tesla Cybertruck has a flat piece of unpainted metal where a grille would normally go. Besides the concept truck’s geometric weirdness, the front end is too minimalistic, Brauer contends. A blend of old and new probably strikes the best note during the great EV transition.
“Cars like the Audi A6 E-tron or GMC Hummer do an effective job of merging a traditional grille with a minimalist grille design, resulting in a sleek yet engaging front-end appearance,” he said.
Eventually, mimicking internal combustion designs may go away entirely. But the transition is likely to be gradual, over some years, so that consumers don’t recoil from the shock of the new.
Warned Brauer: “We’re not ready to give up our grilles. Yet.”
The first-generation Nissan Leaf had a sloping nose, in body color, with the charge port in the middle. That look was unique but too bland for some critics. The second-generation Leaf went for a more mainstream look, employing Nissan’s signature V-shaped grille.
Hyundai’s first EVs in the U.S., the Ioniq hatch and Kona crossover, were based on gas counterparts, so designers simply covered the grille area with textured plastic. But the coming new generation of Hyundai EVs is more adventurous.
Tesla has projected its EV image by doing away with the idea of a grille almost entirely. The first Tesla Model S sedan did have a rounded black panel that mimicked a grille, but that was later revised in favor of a small T-shaped design also found on the Model X crossover. The Model 3 sedan and Model Y crossover have no grille but do have a notable lower air intake.
Read more: AsumeTech