Detroit — As electrification eliminates the need for what was long a key visual component of vehicles — the grille — the front of the vehicle is newly a blank slate for design.
For Covestro, one of the world's largest producers of polycarbonate, the solution is clear … or at least transparent.
The material supplier envisions a “seamless” front end, with head lights, sensors and other components tucked behind a single tinted PC panel.
“There's no obstructions, from one fender well to the other,” said Paul Platte, senior marketing manager for Covestro's automotive division, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit where several electric vehicle concepts were on display.
In addition to concealing sensors for driver assistance systems, a PC front end could incorporate unique lighting effects both for safety and as a style feature.
“Electric vehicles … open up a completely new arena for design and styling,” said Jochen Hardt, Covestro's global automotive head for polycarbonates, at the auto show. “In the past, the car's designers were fixed; they had the radiator grille and that was it. And now, it's an open arena for design and styling and for a new signature for a brand. And lighting is a third dimension on top of function and style, a key differentiator of cars in the future.”
For self-driving vehicles of the future, front-end lighting could even function as an animated communication system, signaling when a vehicle is operating autonomously or alerting a pedestrian when it is safe to cross in front of the vehicle, then disappearing when not in use.
“While there's some aesthetic advantages, there's still the safety features,” Platte said. “If no one's driving the car, how does the car communicate with the pedestrian? So you can actually have displays built into the front of the vehicle. ”