The rollout of electric vehicles has catalysed the re-evaluation of design, components and consumer requirements, as the new milestone in the industry has officially been marked. It may be obvious that petrol engine component manufactures may disappear in the market, but also tweaking design changes has rippling effects for many supply chain partners. As manufacturers of metal exterior grilles for tier 1 suppliers and OEMs, this has us thinking too more than ever. Through discussions, research, and thought, we present our vision for the future of automotive exterior grilles.
The exterior grille emerged in the early 1930s as we saw the peak of steam-powered road vehicles from which the diesel engine took over during the war. Meshes and slots were adopted for functional purposes primarily to admit cooling air into the car’s radiator and engine as they reached around 75°C. They additionally served great purpose for protection against road gravel when roads were not built so well for cars.
Given the necessity for grilles over the past 100 years, they have also become significant design features for every car. Grilles that once played a functional role have now emerged as stand out branding and identity features that symbolise history and reputation. Bentley
demonstrate well how they have used their grilles to generate visual resonance between their fleet as the design can be easily implemented across the models.
Their implementation and design quickly determine the look of the car, providing uniqueness, especially to the sister companies who share similar body styles. Without grilles, our cars could begin to all look very similar as the images of the Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan Rogue demonstrate. It is apparent that their distinguishing feature is the front grille. The front grille of a Jeep has been so iconic to their look that the seven-bar design is trademarked to ensure exclusivity to the brand image.
Grilles in the EV Market
The introduction of EVs to the industry has shaken the boat in terms of car design and aesthetic, where now you can often distinguish an EV from an ICE just by looking at them. A new technology has lead car designers to take to new design too.
The future for grilles was questioned when Tesla took the route of nearly grille-less cars, creating a more futuristic look. However, will this new concept filter through to well established manufacturers to keep up with the latest trends and designs? This may be up for debate as Tesla have no brand heritage or reputation to promote, so a grille-less car may have been their opportunity to differentiate and stand out? If all manufacturers take this design trend, will the Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan Rogue look almost identical?
We can also question as the popularity and necessity to adopt an EV is increasing rapidly, is the novelty of being the first to purchase the modern EV reducing? Will this mean consumers revert back to wanting to drive a beautiful looking vehicle with charm rather than driving a science project that shouts I’m green as everyone else has caught up? Nobody wants to drive a featureless blob for the same reason people buy swiss mechanical watches rather than a digital quartz one. A £10 watch may be functionally superior but a watch says more than just the time, in the same way a car does much more than get you from A to B.
We’ll leave this up to the designers.
The Future for Grilles
It is important to mention Tesla has not totally eliminated grilles as they still serve a crucial function. Electric cars still need cooling as car batteries can reach up to 140°C causing detrimental effects to its internal structure from battery fluid evaporation. Additionally, high temperatures from overcharging can cause malfunctions of the charging system components leading to slow battery death. Gordon Platto, the design lead of the Ford Mustang Mach-E commented that it amazed him how much cooling they in fact needed. Beyond the functional role grilles play, their textures, materials and finishes add new dimensions to the car that is aesthetic to the eye whilst showing value and model identity.
Engine cooling is as important to EVs as battery cooling was to ICEs, in addition to the integral role grilles play in brand identity, differentiation and value. However, grilles also introduce other opportunities for design. A method of hiding cameras and sensors has become highly popular as well as the open areas allowing for lighting integration to modernise and enhance welcome features on vehicles.
Our thoughts here lie similarly with our interior components such as speaker grilles, where similar matters apply. An article following this will differently address our vehicle interiors and how the introduction of widespread battery adoption may affect them more than you think.
Author – Emily Evans