The making of automobiles isn’t something that happens overnight or by accident. It’s a long, painstaking process with tons of steps involved.
When an automaker brings a new vehicle to the market, an entire process of concepts, prototypes, testing, approvals, and discussions have already taken place. We see some models that are paraded across the stage at auto shows that never make it to production; why does this happen? We have found some vehicles that look much different when produced than the concept versions that were offered; is there a reason for this?
Let’s dig deeper and understand more about what goes into making some of our favorite vehicles.
It All Starts With an Idea
Call it the invention phase, call it the idea phase, call it what you want, but every product or service we have in our lives had to start somewhere with a “lightbulb” moment. Early automobiles were true inventions with very little to control or keep them limited, while the models we drive today are typically the next step on the evolution of the cars that we love to drive.
The invention phase of the making of automobiles can last up to six years. Yes, that is how long it can take for an automaker to perform research, investigations, identification, and selection for a vehicle. The vehicle will need to fit into the future market, which means the automaker doesn’t want to be too early or too late either. The special features have to be identified, the powertrain selected, costs assessed, and market analysis completed. This takes a long time, and it’s part of the process that is happening alongside other steps in this process. Everything about the new vehicle has to be understood to ensure the greatest return on investment for the vehicle being offered.
The Design Phase Begins
Market research is one of the most important steps in the process and is part of the idea phase, but once completed, the design phase begins. This process can also take nearly six years but it will be it’s accomplished at the same time as some of the research and investigation is being completed in the invention phase. While this creates a bit of a muddled process, this has been working for automakers for a long time.
During the design phase, sketches, which are likely computerized today, are completed, models are built, and experts will review what they find. This goes for the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Once some concept versions are created, the testing part o the prices begins. This is when the vehicle is assessed in a wind tunnel, and changes are made.
The design process is one of the most difficult and ever-changing parts of the process when it comes to the making of automobiles. Most vehicles will never make it past this part of the process and be brought in front of a crowd to be reviewed. Those that do are built and made ready to head to auto shows as concepts that will become the subject of public review.
What About the Engineering?
Automotive designers could create some crazy builds that just might not work on any road. That’s where the engineers come in. This phase of the process is happening concurrently with the design phase, which means you know that this part of the process will happen with the same six-year timeframe as the design phase. Engineers work to ensure everything about the vehicle will be right for customers that will want to buy this vehicle. They test and build the features necessary, research advanced technologies, create the powertrains that will be used, and work to identify the packages that are right for each trim and build of the vehicle.
Testing is a huge part of the engineering phase. When you see prototypes out on the road, they have usually passed many tests. The engineering team uses closed courses for the initial testing of vehicles, but road tests are important to complete the process. It’s important during the process of the making of automobiles to identify the target audience, which can change during the design and engineering process. During engineering, many of the cost analysis reports are created to determine whether or not features need to be altered to ensure the vehicle can be profitable.
The Manufacturing Process Begins
While there are changes to vehicles in the last three years before it’s released to the public, the manufacturing process can typically begin after three years in the invention, design, and engineering phases. The reason for this timeline is the fact that manufacturing plants need to be set up for the assembly of the new vehicle. This is a long process with machines that need to be programmed and tooled to build and stamp out the parts.
During this time, pilot builds are created to validate the process is completed the right way. These first few versions of the vehicle are tested to ensure they meet the performance desires of the automaker and have everything needed to allow mass-production to take place. Only small, niche automakers don’t retool heavily for this process. The workforce at the assembly plants has to be trained, suppliers will be part of the process to understand what they need to offer, and the production of sellable models begins. Because this part of the process takes place in the last three years of the timeline, you can understand why some vehicles are offered with only a few trims, to begin with.
Vehicle Launch, Sales Begin
The most exciting part in the process of the making of automobiles is the launch phase. This process beings after five years have passed from the initial idea phase. During this time, we see names chosen if they haven’t been already, pricing identified, marketing created, and the vehicle introduced to dealers. At this point, automakers have to plan the logistics to create the flow of vehicles to dealers along with the promotional advertising that will support the launch. Presentations are created for auto shows, press, social media, analysts, and management to give the new vehicle the best chance of being a success and reaching the largest audience possible.
As you can see, the process from an initial idea to the showroom is a long one. Automakers have to anticipate what the market will do and the type of technology that will be offered after six years have passed. This is an amazing process and one that we can be thankful for every time we step in our cars and take a drive.