The real reason car grilles are so large
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We may look back at 2021 as the year of lockdowns and supply chain issues but it was also the year of the big car grille.
While Kiwis were chained to their home offices, we were spending big on cars, with new car sales up 14.5 per cent from 2020. And cars we were buying had big grilles.
Grilles are in, and some are so massive they could probably apply for their own postcode. Yet they’re not always entirely necessary, so why the trend for large front faces?
To understand this we need to look at how cars have changed over time, said Toyota Australia chief designer Nick Hogios.
Traditionally front grilles have been necessary to allow airflow into the vehicle’s engine bay to help prevent the engine and radiator from overheating.
Yet as car companies embrace electric technology, the need for a grille of any size is reduced.
A fully electric car doesn’t really need a grille, because there is no engine sitting behind it and no radiator pulling in air, yet major companies are releasing electric vehicles with huge grilles.
Just look at BMW’s iX SUV. The twin-kidney grille has been likened by many to huge beaver teeth.
Why bother with a feature that makes your car look like it could chew into logs and build a dam when it has no effect on how it runs?
The answer, according to Mr Hogios, is that it’s mainly for aesthetics. While the front face of a car does play some role in aerodynamics, it’s more about the “essence” of the brand.
“Front-end design has been the way for every company to stamp their DNA on a product,” he said.
“There is strong demand to create something dynamic and exciting.”
Lexus is another company following the trend of aggressive front ends. The hybrid Lexus UX has a front you could strain your spaghetti through. Yet, while the grille of electric and hybrid cars often hold some sensors, the vast size is simply to break away from the crowd.
And it’s not just electric cars that are adopting the look, even the humble Camry has seen its grille size grow over the last few years.
Despite this trend, some electric vehicles are embracing a more naked look. Tesla’s Model S removes the grille entirely creating a futuristic looking car with a front as smooth as a dolphin’s forehead.
Such innovation in electric vehicles excites Mr Hogios about the future of car design. The new electric Toyota bZ4X, to be released next year will be taking a leaf out of Tesla’s book and minimising its grille.
“As we move into carbon neutrality… there will be more design freedom to play with vehicle architecture,” he said.
“It’s an exciting time to be a designer in this market.”