Audi’s designers won’t abandon stylized grilles anytime soon, even as the brand pushes out more electric vehicles. Why is this news? Because Audi will continue to curate its now-instantly recognizable single-frame grille design on its EVs—the engineless vehicles that some manufacturers have declared no longer need grilles.
While automakers such as General Motors the idea that “electric cars don’t need no stinkin’ grilles!” with its EV1 two-door of the 1990s, Tesla brought renewed popularity to this mindset with the likes of its entry-level Model 3 and Model Y. Without the strict need for a traditional radiator, which cools off the water circuit flowing around an internal combustion engine to lower its temperature, the thinking went, why crack open a hole in the front of a car? Even so, early Tesla Model S EVs included a blackout panel reminiscent of a grille, which the automaker eventually did away with. It seems as though every electric car startup or new EV model of a common design (think Ford F-150 Lightning, Mercedes EQC, and so on) slips onto the scene with a body-color panel where a grille would typically go.
The thing is, whether it’s feeding cooling air to a radiator or not, grilles are still useful. And we’re talking about useful on a practical level, after all. Although EVs may not have use for traditional radiators (though some new models have water-cooled batteries), these vehicles do have electronic control units and batteries that could benefit from fresh air. So styling trend or otherwise, grilles aren’t exactly unnecessary add-ons for electric cars. That said, these cooling openings needn’t be located where a traditional grille might go: right on the nose ahead of a gas- or diesel-fed vehicle’s front-mounted radiator. These items can be lower in the bumper, or someplace else entirely.
For Audi’s designers, the grille retains utility behind simply shoving cool air at mechanical components or batteries. It’s part of the brand’s styling identity, full stop. During a recent virtual roundtable event, the company said so—insisting that going forward, even on its imagined self-driving future electric vehicles (the so-called “sphere” cars), the Audi single-frame grille will make an appearance. This “electric face”, as the designers referred to it, will be counted on to separate Audis from competitors’ vehicles.
Details on what form it’ll take, be it an open vent-like aperture or a largely blanked-out panel or even simply the stylized outline of the shape on an entirely closed-off-to-airflow front end, is yet to be determined, but the A6 E-Tron electric sedan concept pictured here offers a clue …
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