There’s a term in the automotive industry called “Class A Surface.” It represents any part of the vehicle that customers can see or touch, and that must therefore be styled appropriately (i.e. it must look good). Active grille shutters — plastic vents that open to allow airflow to a cooling module and close to improve aerodynamics when cooling air isn’t needed — are usually not considered Class A. But they are on the Hyundai Ioniq 5. And we need to talk about it.
As I’ve mentioned probably far too many times, in a past life, I was the Systems Integration Responsible in the Advanced AeroThermal team at Chrysler — specifically, I was the point-man for the JL’s cooling system design. I recall in the early days some discussion about adding active grille shutters, or AGS, to the Wrangler. The aim was to close the shutters when the vehicle cooling demands were low (like steady state cruising), sending air around the vehicle instead of through the un-aerodynamic engine bay.
Our aerodynamicist had run some studies on the Wrangler, and found there to be a reduction of multiple counts (a count is 0.001 Cd) of drag; I think the benefit was in the teens, though I really don’t remember. What I do recall is that the advantage wasn’t crazy, which is wild to think about.
That literally means that — instead of allowing the air to hit the closed shutters and then flow smoothly over the vehicle’s sheetmetal — the JL’s exterior shape is so un-aerodynamic that it’s really not that much less efficient to just send air through the grille, through the cooling system, and then bouncing around the engine bay.
I recall that, for some reason, we decided that horizontal AGS wasn’t a good option. Perhaps the issue was that even open shutters do block flow somewhat, though maybe aesthetics also played a role. The grille slots are wide on the Wrangler, and anything behind them is quite visible, especially given that the Wrangler wasn’t initially going to have any grille texture (the predecessor, the JK, also has none). This changed sometime after I left. I assume designers won that argument despite the negative cooling flow implications of texture (that’s the mesh in the image above).
We suggested vertical AGS that, when closed, hid behind the grille bars. I remember an AGS engineer shutting that idea down, saying it would cause too many issues — or perhaps it just required a ton of work (a full Design Failure Mode And Effect analysis is rarely an easy task). Anyway, in the end, the Wrangler did not receive grille shutters.
It wasn’t a huge loss if I recall correctly, though there was a loss of idealism for me as a young engineer witnessing the “we can’t do it” mentality that unfortunately possessed far too many folks in those Chrysler Technical Center halls. To be fair, Chrysler engineers are incredibly talented, and the “we can’t do that” mentality is something that exists in all engineering environments.
Unsurprisingly, another company ended up developing a vertical AGS system (I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something similar already in existence during JL development circa 2014), because let’s be real — this ain’t rocket science. Check out this BMW AGS system from automotive plastics supplier Röchling:
Here are a few stills:
This design actually won a supplier innovation award in 2016! Check it out:
Röchling Automotive: Active Grille Shutter in the BMW 7 Series The Active Grille Shutter in the BMW 7 Series from Röchling Automotive makes air grilles visible for the first time, allowing the customer to witness aerodynamics directly. Integrating the slats directly into the BMW kidney grille creates a striking optical effect. Electric controls actively regulate the air stream. The improvement over previous systems is impressive: Air resistance is optimised, CO2 emissions reduced and the engine warms up faster from a cold start.
I mention this not to poke fun at a naysaying Chrysler engineer but because vertical active grille shutters like these came into existence largely as a way to hide the shutters themselves behind grille elements, offering a cleaner design that allows for maximum airflow when the shutters are open. It’s just a different way to adapt a technology to mesh with certain vehicles’ stylistic profiles.
Hyundai has gone after a similar goal with its Ioniq 5, the very first vehicle on Hyundai-Kia’s new E-GMP (Electric Global Modular Platform) platform. But the Korean automaker has done so using a different method; instead of hiding the shutters, it made the shutters Class-A surfaces.
Here’s a still:
Here’s a close-up of it closed:
And here it is opened:
It looks like there’s one big rod that actuates both of the large “flaps” that cover the two cooling openings, and that this rod is likely driven by a small geared electric motor. The rod spins, and the silver “flaps” move upward and then rearward, in the shape of an arc, such that when fully opened, the silver surface that was once perpendicular to the nose of the car is now facing straight up. Here, let my colleague Jason explain how these close via a simple drawing:
I can see a few drawbacks; I bet this single-shutter design does take up quite a bit of room in the fore-aft direction, and you can see that the flap doesn’t entirely move out of the way of oncoming airflow. Still, look at how clean that looks.
Of course, using the shutters themselves as Class-A surfaces isn’t exactly an industry first. The Ford Mustang Mach-E has six grille shutters prominently placed at the base of the front fascia:
This is a nice design, though it is a little different than the Hyundai’s. The Hyundai isn’t trying to mimic a lower grille opening like Ford clearly is with its black color and mesh-shaped diamond texture. The Hyundai’s shutters are bumper-colored and just look like inset trapezoids at the base of the fascia.
Those of you paying close attention may notice what looks like a small slot just under the license plate. I took a peek, and that looks like it’s closed off; I’m not entirely sure why it exists, if I’m honest. Perhaps it’s an additional cooling opening for a different trim or for a different market with more stringent HVAC/cooling requirements? I really don’t know:
What I do know is that the Hyundai Ioniq 5 has pretty much no grille or even a fake grille (aside from that slit above; and you could call that big glossy black surface between the headlights a fake grille, I suppose).
I really dig this design, and I just wanted to make sure that Hyundai cooling system engineers and designers get recognition for this. And that you readers were aware of its existence. It’s important.