BMW kept the kidney-shaped design even though it wasn’t to cool the engine, Ford put the ‘horse collar’ on the Mustang Mach-E and Tesla completely ditched the grille.
In 2016, when Tesla upgraded the Model S electric sedan, the fake grille on the steering wheel of the car was no longer available. The car simply becomes a unified block from front to back and leaves only the gap in the front bumper like a sticker. The American automaker pioneered the electric vehicle segment and also created a trend in the design of the grilleless steering wheel in the industry.
Electric cars with the characteristics of not having an internal combustion engine, leading to the loss of the grille cooling system at the front of the car. The grille becomes redundant, but for many automakers, this is not simply filling the surface to create a seamless block like Tesla.
“The grille is more than just an engine cooling system,” says Domagoj Dukec, BMW’s design director. “It’s also what sets us apart from other competitors.”
The nearly hundred-year history of BMW is associated with the steering wheel with the dual kidney grille. The Bavarian automaker is one of the rare brands in the industry that has retained its design identity throughout its history. BMW designers can remove the grille that is no longer useful for electric vehicles, but to preserve the heritage, they are not allowed to do so.
On the two BMW i4 and iX launched in March 2021, the kidney-shaped grille continues to be present on the steering wheel even without cooling. They are formed in a solid shape with imitation of vertical spokes commonly found on petrol and diesel BMW cars.
Similar to BMW, General Motors (GM) also tries to bring what customers are familiar with in its petrol and diesel cars, to electric cars. On the Hummer EV of the GMC sub-brand, fans can recognize the “seven gaps” in a row on the steering wheel. This is the identity of the Hummer that GM in 2001, fought and won the right to use with Chrysler, which also used this design on Jeeps.
The 7 spaces on the Hummer EV have a slight variation when omitting one to make the 6 letters combined into a glowing Hummer. If you pay closer attention, from the edge of the headlight left to right, there are still 7 consecutive spaces. “We’re excited about this,” said Rich Scheer, Hummer EV design director. “It’s like an illusion.”
“What’s behind the grille of an electric vehicle, it’s a giant void,” added Rich Scheer. “You can even breathe in the air, but it’s all about bringing that empty space to life.” If the grilles of the i4 and iX are where engineers “hide” cameras or proximity sensors for safety and driver assistance technology, the Hummer EV simply creates something to fill the gap. avoid, attract others.
According to Rich Scheer, the company’s idea was to create a product that looked like an iPhone. Quiet, cold when not in use but lights up and greets you when the owner approaches with the key in hand.
With Ford, the steering wheel on the Mustang Mach-E also has a separate purpose. The middle horse logo reminds everyone this is the Mustang series, but it’s not just that. “We tried to create a special signature with a horse collar instead of the grille position,” said Gordon Platto, Mustang Mach-E design director. “Customers don’t want to drive a car as if it’s for scientific research. They want the product to have a nice shape that speaks to the brand’s personality.”
Unlike BMW or GMC, the design of the steering wheel of electric products on Kia, Hyundai or Volvo does not have many intentions. The grille of Niro, Kona EV, XC40 EV is simply filled based on the design of the petrol version. They are nothing more than a message telling people: “We don’t use internal combustion engines here!”.
For early tram users, such a signal was especially appealing to them. If customers want to buy an unusual electric car, or because a citizen’s simple desire is to protect the environment, they may want others to know what kind of car they are driving, a kind of emotion that Admittedly. However, as technology advances, the purpose of buying an electric car becomes more pragmatic.
According to a survey by customer research company Car Lab, the reason for current customers to buy electric cars is because they want to save fuel costs, or simply because they like it. To them, it doesn’t matter whether other people know what they ride or not. “Ten years ago, customers buying electric cars really wanted people to notice them,” said Eric Noble, president of Car Lab. “Now we see that demand is rapidly diminishing.”
BMW’s Dukec, GM’s Scheer, and Ford’s Platto all say it’s not necessary to put an electric transmission mark on the steering wheel. Instead, shaping the image to both retain brand identity and represent some promising technology, is the main goal to aim for.
“If you have a different powertrain, there’s no need to expose it in the design of the steering wheel,” says Dukec. “We don’t have to hide and say, ‘Oh, Tesla doesn’t have a grille because they don’t have as much history and heritage as we do.’ For them, it’s a way to be different. For me, customers don’t expect us to be different, they just want BMW to deliver the best mobility products, regardless of whether the powertrain is petrol, diesel or electric.”
Pham Trung (according to the Bloomberg)