How is a new car made?
Read about the fascinating process involved in designing a new car.
Have you ever wondered how a car manufacturer creates a new car? The amount of work that goes into the lengthy styling and design process is startling.
Step one: Business case/marketing study
The whole process of creating a new car can start up to a decade before the vehicle ever turns a wheel, let alone before commencing any design work. The actual design and production process typically takes between three and four years.
A new car starts as a business case or marketing study. The manufacturer’s analysts will determine future car industry trends, including the kind of cars that buyers will look for. They will also develop projections for the type of vehicles that will suit a motorist in five to ten years' time. Employees conduct feasibility studies and surveys to collect buyer feedback.
With a firm idea of the kind of car buyers want, engineers can then determine whether the new model will run on an all-new platform or whether the underlying mechanical architecture and engines can be shared with sister car models or companies. The underpinnings and engine options enable engineers to flesh out some solid dimensions that designers will need to work around.
At some stage, the team will write a brief and pass this on to car stylists in the design studio. The brief outlines some general requirements and points to be aware of.
Step two: Sketching / Drawing
Next, a group of car designers will start sketching, putting concepts onto paper. Through continual refinement, individual elements will evolve or be ditched altogether. Eventually, the designers turn the drawings into a digital rendering with more detail. The designers will work on several different perspectives and a finalised car design may take up to 1,000 sketches.
After the concepts are finished, the team presents them to decision-makers and stakeholders in the company. They may have to pitch their design against their colleague’s work, explaining how they arrived at the particular solution and why it answers the brief the most effectively.
Step three: Packaging
Remember that pesky business of using pre-developed engines and subframes? This stage may now require the stylist to revise their design and make numerous compromises for the sake of economy or engineering. Lots of interdepartmental workshops and assemblies take place between engineers, technicians and designers.
Step four: 3D modelling
Nowadays, the car design process is heavily computerised. Using a 3D CAD modelling program, the modellers convert the 2D renderings into three-dimensional data. To do this, modellers need a front, side and rear perspective profile and possibly a top-down view. The design team works directly with the modeller as they translate a design into 3D. The industry standard software for this is Autodesk Alias which is used by carmakers like Tesla.
Once the 3D model is complete, it is again showcased to a group of stakeholders. Nowadays, car companies will often use a power wall to show off the concept. The wall works like a giant screen where the 3D model is enlarged to 1:1 scale.
Step five: Clay modelling
Once given the go-ahead, the design process moves to the clay modelling stage. A steel or wooden support buck, which has dummy axles and wheels, is covered in an industrial plasticine-like material. Then, the 3D model data can be passed to a robotic carving tool, which rough cuts the clay form. Next, sculptors will go in with clay working tools and improvised scrapers to refine and polish the clay into shape. The clay buck may be 1:4 scale or full-size.
Designers will work with the sculptors, often employing tape as a simple way to lay out a new line or communicate a styling alteration. One long-time Ford clay modeller said he’d often come back from lunch to find tape applied all over the ceramic form indicating changes to be made.
Finally, the sculpting team works toward creating a frozen model, which is painted to look like the finalised and completed car. They look so real that the marketing department can use shots of these models in promotional material. These frozen models weigh upwards of 5,000kg!
Step six: Interior design
While the exterior of the car comes to fruition, a team of interior specialists works on designing the cabin. They use a similar methodology to the exterior team. They may create a life-size rig of the interior for evaluation purposes. The interior design team considers hundreds of fabrics and materials before they choose a selection of interior designs.
On modern cars, everything centres on the infotainment screen. The interior designers also need to work on developing an ergonomic and practical passenger compartment.
Step seven: Colours
Even paint colours are a product of countless hours of work and experimentation. The inspiration for a colour scheme could be taken from architectural, fashion or product design trends. The team can go through up to one hundred different paint colour combinations and 1,000 litres of paint. Once complete, a buyer will have around a dozen different colours to choose from.
Step eight: Engineering finalised and production commences
The last step is to get the car signed off for assembly and production. The full-scale clay model will be shown to upper management. Several working prototypes will be built. If it becomes evident that a particular body crease or styling line is difficult to manufacture, it can be adjusted right up to the last minute.
Once given the ultimate sign-off, a car designer can sit back, relax and then start work on their next project. It is an intense and exhaustive journey, supported by a workforce of hundreds of specialists and professionals.
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