With the advance of electric mobility, the function of the vehicle front is changing. Because the large radiator in the front area is no longer needed, the radiator grille is also eliminated. Nevertheless, the front area of the vehicles remains an important design feature for the brand’s recognition value. Hella – now as a subsidiary of Faurecia under the umbrella brand Forvia – wants to occupy this market and offer the technology for an innovative design of this front area. “The elimination of the classic radiator grille opens up completely new design possibilities for designers of e-vehicles,” says Dr. Frank Huber, Managing Director responsible for the Lighting Division at the internationally positioned automotive supplier Hella. “The entire surface can be freely designed in this way. Hella is developing large-area panels for this purpose. Special attention is paid here not only to the design, but above all to the integration of further functionalities.”
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Hella wants to use its many years of experience in lighting and electronics technology for this new area of responsibility. On this basis, the company wants to integrate front radar covers, so-called radomes, radar sensors, lidar, cameras for driver assistance systems and headlights into the covers. “We act as a system integrator. Vehicle manufacturers benefit from this because they have to coordinate fewer sub-suppliers,” says Huber. Hella also ensures that the individual components are compatible with each other. The result is highly integrated, multifunctional panels that also have an unmistakable design.
In order to give the panel an attractive day and night appearance, the company from Westphalia uses different manufacturing processes. For example, structures such as hexagons can be introduced into the surface with a laser. Manufacturers can choose individually whether panels are realised in vehicle colour, in homogeneous black or in chrome look. Hella has mastered new technologies such as injection stamping, foil back injection and others in order to produce decorative components according to customer requirements. At night or when switched on, the light apertures are illuminated and structures and animations become visible. Another advantage is that the panels can be quickly customised, for example for different model variants, by simply adapting the design or styling of the surface. “This no longer requires any complex tool adjustments, which means that the investment pays off more quickly for car manufacturers,” says Huber.
In addition to the design aspect, the panel also has an important safety function. It serves as protection for sensitive systems such as parking assistants or automatic distance control. If desired, the panel can also be heated, which ensures reliable functionality even in bad weather. This aspect is becoming increasingly important, especially in view of autonomous driving.
The first panel of this type went into series production at a European vehicle manufacturer in the third quarter of 2021. In addition, Hella is currently working on a panel over one metre wide for a European e-vehicle brand, which is expected to go into series production in the third quarter of 2022. The panel requires the highest surface quality and is also “radar-permeable” in order to be able to implement the automatic distance control (ACC) function.