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How come the battery terminals are on the side rather than on top of the battery in some GM vehicles? Was it the way they were designed or are they there for a purpose?

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It's a design choice. They're better in my experience. They take less vertical space (great for undermounting). They look tidier. And without terminals on the top, it's not as easy to drop something on it and short it out. They also get less corrosion and salts forming on them (gases escape out the top of battery).

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