Nearly every vehicle on the road today has an internal combustion engine, and due to their inefficiency at converting fuel to motion, they give off a lot of waste heat. To keep the engines from overheating, a liquid cooling system circulates that heat through a radiator, which exchanges that heat with the air flowing through it.
The best place to locate the radiator is right in front of the vehicle to force air into it as the vehicle moves forwards, the one thing that all these vehicles have in common is the grille.
Far from being a merely functional opening in the front of the vehicle to allow airflow to the radiator, every manufacturer has turned this necessary item into a unique statement. Myriad shapes and colors and designs set apart each manufacturer from another, and the grille has become as ubiquitous as two headlights.
Studebaker had three headlights once, you don’t remember that? Well, while it was a good idea, it got bred out of vehicle design. The same happened with the grille, at one time Volkswagen did without a grille with the 1990 Passat, and later versions came with a grille again.
We’re just so used to seeing a grille on the front of every vehicle we see on the road today, what’s going to happen when it’s not necessary anymore? Electric vehicles [EV] do require some amount of air flow for the battery cooling system, but with the batteries being located on the floor or in the rear of the vehicle, what use is that huge hole in the front anymore? It seems that designers aren’t sure what to do without the grille!
A grille appearing on a converted vehicle, such as the Ford Focus and Focus EV, makes a little bit of sense, but what about on a purpose-built EV, such as the Nissan Leaf?
Electric vehicle manufacturers have been putting stuff in the place of the grille, solid grille-like panels with no airflow, but will we see grilles be bred out completely? Who knows? With the grille being such an identifying marker, it might be a long time before the public accepts anything that doesn’t have a grille.