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There are several reasons for making a concept car. The main one is to glimpse into the future: each new concept moves brand design forward and hints at coming developments. Concepts are also a way for the brand to probe the public reaction and show people what they can expect in the next few years. Intensive work and cooperation between teams provide a learning curve for everyone to develop their craft further.
When a car company decides it’s time for a new model, it first examines the needs and expectations of existing and potential customers. Then, it decides what kind of car it should make – if it should be a small family car, an SUV, a sports car, etc. Right after the research and development department sets the proportions and technical properties of the new vehicle, the designers are called in. They have to connect emotionally with the target audience and sketch the first lines of what the new car could look like.
Usually, it is through a creative contest between company designers that the future look of the interior and exterior of the car is chosen. Not only must designers perfectly understand the customer, they must also predict what the world will consider of value in the distant future. In this competition amongst equals, four to six concepts are initially selected for further development. Then, designers work on the details, the clay or virtual models of the future car are made and evaluated until one vision wins.
In parallel with the development of the design, technicians already set the placement of all the car components. Their work and the work of interior and exterior designers is then transposed and combined in computer-based design programs. This way, eventual changes in design and their impact on the aerodynamics, comfort and safety of the vehicle can be examined and elaborated on in a matter of clicks.
Although designers and engineers can actually visualize the concept of the car in 3D with the help of computer design programming software, the concept model is also made in a full-size clay rendering. Only this way can the observers of the silhouette of the future car most accurately see how light will reflect on its surface and easily enhance imperfections.
Once the clay models have been tested, including for aerodynamics and ergonomics, the final design is confirmed. Engineers then scan the clay models to obtain computer graphics that will serve in the production of the new car’s parts. At this stage, physical prototypes of the car are produced and thoroughly tested. By exposing them to extreme weather and road conditions, the manufacturer ensures the future car will be durable and in line with customers’ needs and expectations.
Usually, right before production, the engineers tend to make some small, final adjustments. While hardly noticeable, these modifications enable smoother and more cost-effective production of the car. Since the first sketch was made, a demanding three to five years have passed.