Electric cars don’t need grilles. Aside from a prominent place for automakers to showcase their logos, grilles are designed to allow airflow to the radiator and engine compartment. But EVs don’t have radiators and the electric motors and other components that require cooling are typically located nowhere near the grille. Plus, they don’t require the same cooling intensity an internal combustion engine does.
So why do automakers continue to put grilles or weird imitation grilles on their electric cars? It boils down to tradition and comfort. There is a blueprint for designing a car and that blueprint has always included a grille. Automakers are accustomed to putting metal grates front and center on their vehicles and they aren’t changing for anyone, damn it!
I don’t have a problem with designers putting a grille on a car that doesn’t need one, because they do often have a positive impact on the overall look of the car. But fake grilles do not have a positive impact. They have a very, very negative one.
The latest, but surely not the worst, example of an automaker putting a grille-like thing on an electric car is the Kia Soul EV, which debuted at the Chicago Auto Show. While the Soul EV looks nearly identical to the gas-powered model, the front of the car has an outline where the grille normally would be located, but instead of an actual grille, there is just more car.
Similar to what Kia did with the Soul EV, the imitation grille on the Chevy Spark EV is positioned in the same place as it is on the internal combustion model, but Chevy went as far as including fake grates into the design. Rather than making some exterior styling changes for the electric version of hatchback, Chevy just closed off the grille and said, “that’s pretty close.”
What Kia and Chevy did was harmless, however, and maintaining the look of already established models makes sense in a lot of ways. It makes the vehicle familiar and comfortable for drivers entering the world of electric cars and also helps the vehicle stay within the brand’s overall image.
The real mischief-makers are the automakers who try to replace the traditional grille with some futuristic mashup of cheap-looking materials and mystifying lights. Take the Infiniti LE concept, for example. Sure, it’s just a concept car, but Infiniti shouldn’t encourage this type of behavior. No one should. Instead of anything that resembles a grille, the front fascia sports a section of what looks to be rippled plastic with a light behind it, kind of like the plexi lighting panels in your grandma’s basement.
But not all fake grilles are as gaudy and terrible as the Infiniti LE’s and others have found a more practical use for the space where the grille is traditionally located. The Nissan LEAF, for example, places its charging port on the front fascia where you’d normally see the grille. I think this is the best use of the space.
It provides a prominent location to showcase the logo and also gives snobby EV drivers a chance to let us all know how forward thinking they are, which is why most people buy electric cars in the first place.
We’ll continue to see more EV concepts and production cars as drivers seek out fuel alternatives, so there will be plenty of opportunities for automakers to butcher the front fascias of their vehicles. We’ll be here to criticize them.