Concept Cars Creation and Design Process

Manufacturers use concept cars to showcase new styling and technology, along with gauging customer reaction. These are known as show cars, production-intent vehicles, and prototype vehicles. They are often radical designs that employ non-traditional exotic or expensive materials. Concept designs are changed and finalized prior to entering production often due to practicality, regulatory compliance, unprofitability, and safety reasons.

Most drawings, computer designs, and concept cars never evolve past scale models. Many are non-operational and without drivetrains or working accessories. If the concept is drivable, the drivetrain is often sourced from a production vehicle within the same company.

After the concept car has served its purpose, they are usually destroyed.

Reasons For Destruction
  • Liability - Manufacturers want to avoid damages and lawsuits that may arise from defects.
  • Secrecy - To keep intellectual designs and property from being duplicated.
  • Tax Purposes - taxes may be imposed on the value of the vehicle or based on costs involved in developing the concept.
  • Storage - Descruction is cheaper than storing and preservation.

Reasons For Preservation
  • Displayed in a Museum
  • Sold at auction for charity
  • Used in movies

Design Process

The design process of a new automotive design often varies between automakers and in many cases, left as a mystery. In most cases, it is a multi-year experience that typically takes two or three years to complete. The process begins with an idea sketched on paper. (this may be superseded by a business case and market survey to determine the viability and usefulness) From that point, the design is often changed and perfected throughout the process until it become a showroom-ready vehicle.

Typical steps from Idea to Concept
  • Sketch on paper / Drawing / Rendering
  • Computer Modeling / Clay
  • Sketch on paper / Drawing / Rendering
  • Computer and Clay Modeling
  • Full Modeling
  • - Interior modeling and sketching
    - Dashboard controls
    - Colors and materials
  • Model Approval
  • Concept production begins


The designs are often influenced by styling trends of the period, sourced from television, marketing material, and other automotive trends. Hundreds and thousands of designs are often submitted and considered with only a few making it into concept form.

Mechanical Component Consideration

After the initial design concept is approved, the feasibility of design is analyzed for safety and mechanical layout. Several re-drawings are often made to accommodate engine availably and drivetrain layouts.

Computer and Clay Modeling

The proportions are visualized by drawing and 'tape drawing' the silhouette of the proposed concept. This allows for the contours, silhouette and character to be seen on a 1:1 scale.

From this point, the 2-D renderings become three dimensional. Along with computer (CAD, 3D printing and Virtual 3D proportional model) renderings, small scale clay modeling begins. Typically two or three designs are created, with input from many individuals and departments modifying and changing designs. This phase allows for a mutual understanding of the proposed design and a visual representation of the vehicle's physical dimensions.

With multiple versions of the design concept to be considered, many options can be evaluated on the smaller scale before going full size. The competing exterior and interior designs foster creativity and ingenuity resulting in innovative design drafts and appealing proportions. After one or two designs has been chosen, full-sized clay model rendering begins.

Full Scale Clay Model Rendering

Full scale clay model rendering is time consuming and expensive. Even with modern technological advances, it is still the preferred method used by many automakers. Clay modeling allows for the continuous development of the design with rapidly implemented modifications throughout the process. Adding and removing clay is still much easier than other methods.

During the whittling down process, the designers' image begins to take shape. Upon completion, decisions and discussions will determine if the clay model will enter production.

The time needed to become a concept is months (often years) away. Management and designers will have to determine if the design will still be futuristic and feasible by the time the concept is unveiled. Will it have the desired impact in the future?

The Details

After the Board of Management has selected its final design proposal, the precision work begins. The interior and exterior elements are fine-tuned and perfected. In similar fashion to the exterior, the interior has been through several revisions and considerations resulting in dimensions and layout that will fit with the overall concept. Materials, fabrics, plastics, colors, paint, trim and accessories are considered.

Testing of these various materials will help understand their ability to withstand environmental extremes. Direct sunlight, radical changes in temperature, and extensive use and abuse is evaluated to determine their feasibility and longevity.

CAD (Computer Aided Design)

The interior and exterior models are then laser scanned and transformed into a three-dimensional feasibility model. In addition, various technologies are used to help validate precision and efficiency during the development process.

From Concept To Reality

The final design and the original design are often very different. After much debate and consideration it is ready for concept form.

From Concept To Production

After the public debut of the concept, the Board of Management will consider if it will remain a concept or enter production. If it is approved for production, considerable changes will be made to the design often resulting in pre-production prototypes. These design changes will be the result of safety consideration, mechanical components, materials, costs, and public input. Additional consideration will focus on factory tooling and engineering complexities.

The typical model lifespan ranges from four to six years, which means the amount of time before they undergo a major remodeling or powertrain change. Simple modifications are typically made year-to-year.