How does a car move from a concept to a reality?



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    That’s a very good question, Gabriela, and a very interesting process. Car design is a curious mixture of engineering and art. Like most complex things, a car begins life in the mind of somebody–an auto executive, a car designer, even an enthusiast. Conceptual sketches are done, exploring not just how the car will look, but also basically how it will function. If the concept is judged worthy to jump off the drawing board, a design group–usually split into three teams, one to do the exterior, one to do the interior, and one to do color and trim–will begin coordinating the various aspects of the car. Clay models are made, and today computer models of what they call the “Class A surfaces” are generated to check how the car will perform aerodynamically and practically. (You know how you sometimes see car commercials where a car is in a wind tunnel being bombarded by laser beams? That’s kind of a romanticized version of what Class A Surface modeling is, except it’s done in a computer). Scale models will then be built and tested. A prototype will then be made. All the while computer modeling continues to be done, the powertrain engineering gets under way, and the manufacturer starts working out the manufacturing process to figure out exactly how this car is going to be made. Finally, after probably much fanfare at trade conventions like the Detroit Auto Show, early models will start rolling off the assembly line, a few test models at first, and extensive road, crash and safety testing will be done. Finally, after everything’s been modeled, tested, re-tested, crashed, blown up, blasted in wind tunnels and extensively hyped through TV commercials, auto enthusiast websites and glossy magazine ads, the cars will make their way to showroom floors and can be yours for only the low-low price of [fill in the blank] with [blank] APR financing.

    Although it’s dated, the basic process of auto design from concept to reality, at least as it used to be before computers, is presented very well in the 1988 motion picture Tucker: A Man And His Dream which is about the creation of the short-lived Tucker line of automobiles.

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