Automotive Design & Marketing Management
Online car design and marketing course
With the previous post, we finalized the entire syllabus of the automotive design and marketing course. Here we bring you a summary of the design process to review all stages of the process. Although it may not seem like it, six months have gone since it started. So we will see the entire process of car design in a single post, in a summarized way.
Car design stages
Car design phases
We have seen that the car design process is cyclical. To carry out Product Planning, the marketing team takes the data obtained in the market evaluation of a brand model that has been on sale for a few months. In this way we have a cycle that never ends.
We are going to remember what are the design phases of a car:
1 - Product Planning
2 - Styling
3 - Digital phase
4 - Physical phase
5 - Production
6 - Market evaluation
Phase 1: Product Planning
We can divide Product Planning into different phases, although this will depend on each brand:
The first two phases act simultaneously in most cases. Since the study and understanding of trends is part of the market study carried out by the marketing department. But we show it separately because we dedicate two posts to this topic.
A new car may arise from the need to improve and update a model that is already in production, or to cover a certain demand that was unsatisfied. In the first case, the model that is already in the dealerships will be taken as a reference to study its behavior in the market and to be able to define the design requirements of the next car.
We see the second way when a brand or marketing study detects that there is a certain demand that is not being covered, this implies a golden opportunity for manufacturers. Many of the cars made by small manufacturers (Low Volume Cars Brands) don't arise in either of these two ways, but are the desire or the dream of the owner of the brand. That is why sometimes they don't find a niche in the market and the brand does not survive. This is because the design of the car responds to the desire of the creator, and not to the demand of an audience. This is basic in product design, but we have to keep it in mind because we would all love to make the car that we have in our mind, but if we want to sell it, the car may end up being a different car than the one we had imagined.
This presents two difficulties. If we want to create our own car brand, we will have to listen to the market and not to ourselves. But the difficulty is even greater when, as automotive designers, a customer wants to create a brand to build the car of their dreams. Then it will be very difficult to make him understand that he has to make changes to the design if he really wants to sell it. Either listen to the market and adapt to the design, or a one-off is manufactured assuming all the costs that this entails.
It's really important to take into account automotive trends. This is because we design the car of the future, five years from now. Let us remember the main trends in the automotive industry, as far as car design is concerned, they are the following:
1. Population concentration in large cities
2. Non-owned vehicles
3. Connectivity and digitization
4. Environmental awareness (and environmental regulations)
5. Autonomous car
This is not about learning a list of car trends, each of us is free to add trends that we have detected and consider to be important for car design. This is what gives each of the designers their own character. For example, veganism is very important to some people and consider it a key point. For example Renew Sports Cars and Fisker use this key in their designs. The important thing is not to learn a list, but to acquire knowledge to be able to justify your own designs and decisions that you make.
As we saw, the development time of a car is five years, although this time tends to be reduced, for example, using existing platforms. The restyling gives design teams greater flexibility, as the time required for development is much less, and the brand can bring a new model to market more frequently.
On the one hand, one team can work on a restyling to two or three years ahead, and at the same time, another team can work on the next generation of the model that will come out in five years. In addition to this, we also saw that restyling is part of a business strategy in which the second-hand vehicle market came into play.
A car cannot enter the market out of date. The problem comes with technology and consumer preferences changing faster and faster. How are we going to make products that are up-to-date if it takes us five years to develop them?
For example, in five years infotainment will be much more advanced than today, so it's hard to predict exactly what technologies will exist, which is why there are retrofits that allow updating a model.
To that we add the fact that the automotive business model is changing, we have already seen that the increase in car-sharing and fleets have changed the rules of the game, although they have seen a recession due to the pandemic. This example is perfect, because right now it's difficult for brands to know what strategy they should follow. If the pandemic continues, it is smart to bet on individual transportation. But if the pandemic ceases, it's smart to create a product strategy based on car-sharing.
The pandemic not only affects the desire not to share a vehicle, but has also encouraged working online. What is the relationship between the home office and cars? Due to the home office, the growth of large cities to the detriment of towns could be slowed. In fact, people would go back to work in small towns, from home. Therefore, the problems of traffic congestion and lack of parking would cease to exist. Therefore, interest in car-sharing would drop dramatically. This is why a study on automobile trends has to be carried out.
Once the design team is clearer about which car to design, they draw up the Product Concept. It's a document that defines the design requirements of the vehicle and an initial forecast of the resources that are necessary for its development and manufacture.
Phase 2: Styling
The design team will take the design requirements defined in the Product Concept, and will begin to develop the different proposals. For this, it's important to keep the design language to give uniformity to the product portfolio. In addition to this, they must apply knowledge about the different surface strategies and the ideal proportions for each type of vehicle.
In the proposal development phase we find three phases:
In the initial concept phase, thousands of sketches are made to obtain the best possible proposal, according to the Product Concept specifications. Once the team obtains a final proposal, it's presented to the different technical areas that will have to validate if the concept makes sense. This is done to avoid wasting time developing a concept that a priori was not technically feasible to produce.
It's also important to verify that the design is manufacturable, at least a priori. For example, excessively complex surfaces could lead to additional costs due to the added difficulty in the manufacturing process. Due to these types of issues, the conceptual design is validated by all departments, since each one is an expert in their field. Once the final sketch has been validated, it's transferred to the 3d design by computer. At this stage, the main design criteria and vehicle dimensions will be fully defined. Cad programs suitable for surface design are used: Autodesk Alias, Autodesk Maya, Icem Surf by Catia or Rhinoceros.
After this step, the clay model is made. Tape Drawing is also used, which consists of the use of tapes to limit the main parts of the car. The tapes can be used both on the same clay model, as on a wall with the side view, preferably drawn to real scale.
Usually the models are made at ¼ and 1/10 scale. Despite being an artisan process, technologies are increasingly used in this phase, such as 3d printing. Once the General Council has approved the final small-scale model, it will be created on a real scale. Once the model is finished, the different engineering departments will validate it as they did with the sketches. Thin sheets of plastic are used to simulate sheet metal, in fact, many of the cars we see in auto shows are these models and not the final vehicle. The interior of the car also has to be modeled with clay, taking special care with the ergonomics and usability of the vehicle.
The Color & Trim department takes care of the visual details. For example, they choose the fabrics or choose the different colors of the vehicle.
Phase 3: Digital phase
In this phase, the concepts are transferred to the computer for further analysis. The final clay model, called the Frozen Model, is usually scanned. It is important to differentiate the type of Cad that is used in this phase. In the previous one, surface design was used, but in this one, parametric design is used.
The engineers begin with the structural design of the vehicle, designing the different frames that make up the self-supporting chassis of the vehicle. Afterwards, they will work on the design of the chassis: engine, suspensions, transmission, brakes, etc. Then the rest of the functional components will be added. At this stage there is a lot of planning and control to save as much time as possible.
A really important part of computer design is simulation. For this, the CAE (Computer Engineering Aided) is used. We saw that they can be used for many different simulations, for example:
Although all are important, the best known are FEM and the CFD. Fem is finite element analysis and is used to study the behavior of a structure under different loads and events. CFD is mainly used to study the aerodynamics of the vehicle as well as to analyze the different heat fluxes.
CAE (Computer-aided engineering) considerably reduces costs and design times, since the development of a new model requires at least 50 prototypes. If pre-production models are included the figure increases between 400 and 600 vehicles.
Phase 4: Physical phase
In this phase we already have the real and functional prototype, although in its most initial phases. They are called test mules.
The physical phase of the car development is divided into two phases. The first is done static and behind closed doors. In this phase, the model is assembled and the engineers make sure that all the pieces fit together and that their tolerances are correct. The second phase is dynamic and the car is tested in many tests
Now we are going to see the different tests that are carried out on a car, in a really brief way since we talk more in detail in their respective posts.
Aerodynamics and aeroacoustics: These tests are carried out mainly in wind tunnels, which are buildings designed to maintain a laminar flow inside the chamber with the least possible energy loss. The CFD is also used to perform the preliminary calculations.
2. Crash Tests: In this stage, crash tests are carried out to study the behavior of the vehicle and to ensure the safety of the passengers. On the one hand, the tests strictly necessary for the approval of the vehicle are carried out, but the manufacturer is free to carry out its own tests to improve the quality of the final product. When designing the car it's important to create programmed deformation zones, meaning that the front and rear of the car deform on impact to "absorb" most of the energy. In this way, a large part of the inertia will be dissipated and will not reach the passengers, protecting them from the blow. Various geometric tricks are created for them, such as fuse points to weaken the structure of the car, facilitating its deformation in areas of interest.
3. Engine testing: Usually, engines aren't designed from scratch, but existing engines are improved or adapted to different vehicles. These tests are carried out in airtight rooms with anti-vibration bases. Softwares such as Ansys Fluent, OpenFoam and Simscal are used to simulate the heat flow in engines. With these programs some of the following simulations can be performed:
With the engine dynamometer, the braking or rotation resistance, engine vibration, torque for the different combinations of gearboxes are also measured. gearbox and transmissions, as well as power input levels.
These tests are directly linked to the cooling systems department in which they will test the engine's cooling system.
4. Electronics tests: EMC tests (electromagnetic compatibility tests), HMI tests, which is the human-machine interface, and wiring tests are carried out.
5. Safety tests: The ergonomics, usability and comfort of the cabin are studied. An indicator called the feel-good factor is also introduced, which tries to give a numerical value to the wellness that a customer feels when they sit in a car.
Ergonomics also play an important role, as brands strive to prevent passengers from being injured by staying too long in an uncomfortable position, or by having to do excessive efforts when operating any item. The seats play a really important role in this test, being a crucial element in the design process of a car. That is why they undergo a large number of tests that simulate the continuous use of the seats. These tests are also carried out in adverse weather conditions, introducing the vehicle or the different elements in climatic chambers.
6- Tightness test: The main function is to check that no water enters the interior when it rains. The main tightness test consists of putting the car in a shower and keeping it for long periods of time to be 100% sure that the tightness is adequate.
7 - Comfort tests: The engineers check that driving the car is pleasant for the driver, in addition to other aspects such as ambient lighting and reflections that can be produced by smooth surfaces. Vibrations and insulation are two important factors to consider.
8 - Material tests: Engineers study the behavior of different materials, mainly the resistance of the different components, either to impacts or to fatigue. They are combined with temperature and humidity cycles to recreate various environmental conditions, in so-called tunnels or climatic chambers.
9 - Vehicle dynamics tests: The suspensions and other systems that intervene in the dynamic behavior of the car are adjusted. The specialists also test the response of the vehicle in the curves and the comfort of the same.
Correct suspension design and adequate tires are really important for the vehicular dynamics, considering the weight distribution and the rigidity of the chassis. In this phase the cars are taken to test circuits that are usually designed specifically for testing car prototypes.
10 - Durability tests: This is the last test carried out. The car at this stage should be practically identical to the production vehicle. In this phase the car is tested for thousands of kilometers either on the open road or on tracks. Manufacturers are interested in testing it in different environments, for example in Finland because of the cold and snow; or at the Jerez Circuit due to the heat.
Phase 5: Production Phase
The first step is to design the necessary means for production: molds, fixtures and tools, as well as the production processes.
Afterwards, the Production Trial is carried out. That is, a production test is carried out at the facilities to detect possible errors or mismatches.
The production phases are divided into the following:
The steel is rolled to obtain plates of small thickness. Then each piece has to be shaped. For this, the steel sheets go through presses with molds. This is known as the stamping process. Then it goes on to the body assembly phase. The vehicle moves along the assembly line and the robot arms assemble the different shapes of the car.
The platform is manufactured first and then the sides are attached. The lower cross members and the roof are then mounted. In this way the BIW (Body in White) is formed
After this point comes the process of car painting. The most important step is the cataphoresis bath. An electrical voltage is applied to the body (negative pole - cathode). In turn, the other electrical charge is applied to the bath in which the body is submerged and has dispersed paint particles (positive pole - anode). This causes the bodywork to attract the paint particles in the bathroom. In this way it's possible to cover all areas of the car in a homogeneous way, without running the risk of leaving any gap uncovered.
Once painted, the vehicle goes to the assembly area where the operators will assemble the rest of the car's components. Operators have stools, supports and weightless manipulators to facilitate tasks and reduce fatigue.
There is a line for the assembly of the chassis and another line for the bodywork, when both are put together, it is known as marriage.
After this, we finish with the final quality control. Although some quality controls are carried out between phase and phase throughout the manufacturing process. Once everything is checked, the car is ready to be shipped to the dealer.
Phase 6: Market assessment
Once the vehicle is on the market, after six months, they will begin to assess the market response to make modifications and to start planning the next model.
All the information that the specialists collect is sent through two different channels. On the one hand, to the dealer network so that they can adjust their advertising campaigns. On the other hand, they send it to the design centers, so that they can start working on the restyling and on the next model that will go on sale. In this way, the cycle of the car design process is closed, starting again at the starting point.
With this post we have been able to review the complete cycle of vehicle design and development. We hope that you have been able to acquire a global vision of the automobile. We have looked at many fields, from commercial distribution to aerodynamics, through design language and the historical evolution of automotive design. Few professionals in the automotive industry have such a broad view of the business. In addition, much of the information provided is very difficult to access since many things remain within the design centers, the marketing teams and the laboratories.
We hope you have learned a lot during these months. Thank you very much to all for being there.