a workable plan: building a car from concept to production

By | June 1, 2016

design-build-overview-1 How A Car Is Made from Invention to Launch” by Don Sherman, Car and Driver magazine, November 18, 2015.
The time required is the most interesting and secretive part of a car’s gestation; a crash program to replace a dead-on-its-wheels product may take only half the time invested in a normal, full-redesign effort.
In our illustrations, the clock begins when the generals gather to spur their troops to action. The end is when the new model reaches showrooms. On average, the entire process takes 72 months. There’s overlap to save time, as revealed by the start and finish months listed in each of the five category headings. After-sale activities—including service issues, continuous improvement, and midlife face lifts—are not included in this account.

design-build-21. INVENTION
Research market, including in-house and field investigations, to identify the role of this product and its components in the global portfolio; define separation from similar models sold by sister brands
Identify special features, advantages, and potential world, U.S., or segment firsts
Define competitive set, target customers; set curb-weight, fuel-economy, and performance goals
Competitive assessment
Powertrain selection
Budget, funding, pricing, investment considerations
Computer-aided-engineering (CAE) analysis
Customer, press, analyst clinics


Interior—sketches, theme selection, model build, continuous reviews
Exterior—same as above until design freeze
Exterior colors, interior-trim materials selection
Wind-tunnel assessment of theme models
Concept creation for management presentation, potential auto-show use
Additional CAE
Management and engineering reviews

Additional CAE
Customer clinics aimed at gathering current model feedback, suggestions for improvements
Research advanced technologies—engines, transmissions, motors, electronic controls, manufacturing techniques (painting, metal forming, plastic molding), and emerging trends
Package, layout studies
Body design and development for crashworthiness, weight, durability (in conjunction with CAE efforts)
Aerodynamic development
Design, development, tuning, validation (in-lab and on-road) of:
HVAC, infotainment, seats, lighting systems
Hot-, cold-, wet-weather tests
Crash tests
Fuel-economy evaluations
Design for manufacturing and assembly studies
Component and manufacturing cost analysis
Collaborate with suppliers for R&D of purchased components
Safety and emissions certification

design-build-54. MANUFACTURING
MONTHS 36–72
Design for manufacturing and assembly
Construct or modify production facilities
Tooling design, construction, validation
Pilot builds to validate process and parts
On-line preproduction builds
Quality improvements
Confirm that production vehicle meets performance targets
Train workforce
Collaborate with suppliers
Commence production of saleable autos

design-build-65. LAUNCH
MONTHS 60–72
Market research
Naming research (if needed)
Define pricing
Develop marketing theme
Introduce product to dealer body
Plan logistics (flow of vehicles to dealers)
Create promotional (media and advertising) materials
Craft presentations for management, auto shows, press, social media, dealers, analyst