Updated: Mar 4, 2019

We see comments similar to this all the time, sometimes about our own design but also about nearly every other electric vehicle. Why do electric vehicles always have to look so futuristic?

Electric vehicles look futuristic because, well, they are futuristic. As in the technology has evolved past internal combustion, and many design cues you are used to seeing on traditional vehicles are not relevant to EVs. Take, for example, the rear of a vehicle - with no exhaust to account for or integrate into the design, those inherent styling cues around exhausts just aren't there. Another aspect is that EVs are more sensitive to aerodynamics - any aerodynamic gains have a larger effect on the vehicle's efficiency than that of their combustion counterparts. This leads to generally more streamlined, rounded, flowing designs - which you might call futuristic.

There are also design trends in the industry on EVs that have become expected, such as adding the color blue. Whether it's an accent on a badge, or a blue line on a molding or trim piece, you can bet on finding some blue on most electric vehicles.

But the largest issue seems to center around the grill. The big, open grills on the front end of every vehicle that allow air in to the radiator, allowing it to cool the engine. The grills on which most manufacturers focus so much of their design efforts, having a consistent look across their model lines. That grill is how you know if it is a Nissan, or a Ford, or a Kia, or a BMW coming towards you or sitting in your mirror. The grill is so important to traditional manufacturers' brand identity that Jeep's logo *IS* their grill. That is how ingrained in our culture grill design is.

The thing is, electric vehicle drivetrains don't really make that much heat. And the heat they do make can often be used somewhere else in the vehicle, like to heat the battery or cabin, and any remaining heat is easily bled off with a small radiator and fan. They simply don't need to be force-fed hundreds of cubic feet per minute of airflow to keep cool. In fact, due to aerodynamics as discussed above, a large grill would actually be detrimental to an electric vehicle. So, no grill. Or very small ones.

Within the realm of electric vehicles, our Atlis XT has a fairly large set of grills. In the most extreme operations of our full-size truck, towing at maximum GCWR at highway speeds up a grade, we do actually have a bit of excess heat to shed. Not quite like a combustion engine, but more than your typical EV, hence our large grills towards the sides of the front. But our grills aren't placed front and center, because there is nothing there. Again the design of EVs fundamentally varies from combustion engine vehicles - the major components of the drivetrain are different, and those components are located in different locations in the vehicle, and have different needs. Behind where you might expect our grill to be is actually a large storage compartment.

Some traditional manufacturers are going to have a hard time redefining their brand identities as they move towards electric vehicles. We see it with vehicles like Jaguar's I-PACE and the Audi e-tron, where both vehicles share a largely non-functional grill to maintain their brand identity. Companies like Tesla and Atlis - who are designing EVs from the ground up and have no ties to the past, are designing electric vehicles as they should be designed, where the styling integrates with the technology. There is no need to hark back to traditional design cues that simply aren't appropriate for these vehicles.

The automotive industry has seen many design changes over the decades, and the move to electric vehicles is going to be no different. The future is here.