How is a new car made?

A new design can take years to perfect.

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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 impressive.

Step 1: 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 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.

As part of this step, the team will write a brief for car stylists in the design studio that outlines general requirements for the car and points to be aware of.

Step 2: Sketching

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 finalized 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 other designers, explaining how they arrived at their design and why it answers the brief the most effectively.

Step 3: Collaborating

Lots of interdepartmental workshops and assemblies take place between engineers, technicians and designers. The designers may need to revise the design and make compromises for the sake of economy or engineering.

Step 4: 3D modeling

Nowadays, the car design process is heavily computerized. Using a 3D CAD modeling program, the 2D renderings are converted into three-dimensional data. To do this, modelers need a front, side and rear perspective profile and possibly a top-down view. The design team works directly with the modelers as they translate the 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 a life-size scale.

Step 5: Clay modeling

Once given the go-ahead, the design process moves to the clay modeling stage. A steel or wooden support structure, 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 scrapers to refine and polish the clay. The clay model 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 modeler 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 finalized and completed car. They look so real that the marketing department can use shots of these models in promotional material.

Video: Inside Ford’s clay modeling studio

Step 6: Interior design

While the exterior of the car comes to fruition, a team of interior specialists works on designing the cabin, considering hundreds of fabrics and materials before they choose a selection of interior designs. They use a similar methodology to the exterior team and may create a life-size rig of the interior for evaluation purposes.

Step 7: Choosing colors

Even paint colors are a product of countless hours of work and experimentation. The inspiration for a color scheme could be taken from architectural, fashion or product design trends. The team can go through up to one hundred different paint color combinations. Once complete, a buyer will have around a dozen different colors to choose from.

Step 8: Finalizing the design

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.

Why are new models made every year?

In addition to an attractive and updated exterior, new car models benefit from several advanced automated safety features that will protect you and your passengers. Most new cars also perform exceptionally well in stringent crash tests and deliver sensible emission levels and fuel economy. Ultimately, new cars are designed to be safer and less expensive to run on a day-to-day basis.

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Bottom line

New cars take years to design and produce, and cars are constantly being redesigned and reimagined. If you want to upgrade to a newer model, compare car loans that can help you do it.

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