When BMW unveiled its next generation of electric vehicles — the i4 and the iX SUV — in March, their faces generated at least as much chatter as their electric guts. There on the front of both was BMW’s design hallmark: two kidney-shaped grilles.
But these were far bigger than the kidneys on the automaker’s gas-burning models and seemingly turned upright, with a glossy black lattice in place of the trademark vertical bars. They seemed like an anachronism. With no engine sitting behind them, and no radiator pulling in air, why bother?
“The kidney is not just an air-cooling system,” explains BMW design lead Domagoj Dukec. “It’s the strongest differentiator between us and our competitors.”
BMW is not alone. As legacy automakers move to electric powertrains, they’re re-inventing the grille in ways both familiar and strange. GMC’s new Hummer EV, set to begin production in the fall, features a reinterpretation of the SUV’s famous seven-slot grille. Two decades ago, GM successfully fought off a challenge from Chrysler over the right to use the seven slots, which are also a hallmark of Jeep.
This time around GM has abandoned the slots in favor of six blocks that spell out the word “Hummer.” If you squint, however, you can still make out seven slots lining the letter blocks. “We're having fun with that,” says Rich Scheer, design director for the Hummer EV, “It’s kind of an illusion.”