What is a Concept Car or Prototype?
The Concept Car or prototype is one of the most important design stages of designing and developing the new cars. It is the fundamental idea or the very basic structure of the car when it still sits on the drawing board. Most manufacturers have departments with dedicated teams that work on a concept vehicle. The ’concept car’ is the preliminary stage of the final product. In other words, it gives the insights of the actual car to be launched in the future.
A concept car could be a designer's or manufacturer’s idea about how the actual car would be in terms of design, looks, and appearance. It also decides what type of car it will be such as a Sedan, a Hatchback, a Coupe, an SUV or MPV etc. Thus, it narrows down the scope of work for the designers and pre-production teams. These days, many freelance designers and start-ups around the world work on the concepts and publish their work on the social media.
Concept Car: Evolution
Earlier, the concept cars were used to be the wooden structures (or at times, the sheet-metal models) which showcased only how the car will look. They did not specify much of the main provisions such as the power-train and other bits of the car. Nowadays, the concepts got glamorous and are mostly complete in every aspect. They are more popular than ever before. This is mainly because they are futuristic. Also, they give an idea of what to expect in the coming years.
The concept cars are now loaded with all the features which the actual car will offer at the launch. Thus, it helps the prospective buyers in getting more accurate information about the product they will buy. However, there could be some minor changes at the launch in the specifications of the actual car as compared to the concept. The concept car may also feature some of the exterior key elements such as the LED headlights, tail-lamps, anti-pinch windows, and rear camera etc. It could also showcase the specific interior key elements such as the type of seats, upholstery, and dashboard.
These days, many countries around the world host the Automotive Shows or Auto Expo which attract the manufacturers and the prospective buyers alike. Some of the most visited Auto Expos in the world are as per the following.
- Detroit Autorama - USA
- New York Auto Show - USA
- Geneva Motor Show – Europe
- Paris Auto Show - France
- Frankfurt Motor Show - Germany
- British International Motor Show - UK
- Australian International Motor Show – Australia
- Tokyo Motor Show - Japan
- Seoul Motor Show - Korea
- Auto Expo, New Delhi – India
- Shanghai Motor Show – China
- Bangkok International Motor Show – Thailand
However, Frankfurt, Geneva, Detroit, Paris, and Tokyo are the ‘Big Five’ of them all. Automotive manufacturers participate in these Auto Shows to showcase their concept cars to the world. Their participation in the Auto Shows helps them drive the prospective customers to buy their products.
Concept Car vs Prototype Car
After finalizing the concept car, the manufacturers make the prototypes of the car. These prototype cars are raw in nature and manufactured mainly for the testing purposes. The prototype cars are tested in-house and also on the roads to determine their effectiveness in the real world. The testing serves multiple purposes such as the calculation of the performance, real-world efficiency. It can also point out any short-comings/faults, and also carry out indirect marketing of the concept car. If any faults are found, they can be rectified and/or changes in the design be made before the official launch of the vehicle.
Most manufacturers always choose this route before launching their concept cars. However, the car-makers camouflage these vehicles with special stickers/covers to avoid leaking of the crucial information of the design bits to the general public/competitors. Sometimes, the manufacturers even hide the actual shape from the public view. At times, when the components are in the developmental stage, manufacturers use make-shift parts such as the head/tail lamps, exterior fittings etc. as it is mandatory for a roadworthy vehicle as per the RTA rules.
Other Concept Vehicles:
Many people also try to capture these camouflaged prototypes in their cameras while the manufacturers carry out road tests. Nowadays, most of these pictures go viral due to sharing thru' the social media and many websites publish them.
Pre-Production Car/ Pilot Batch:
After successful testing of the prototype cars, some manufacturers produce a pilot batch of cars which are the ‘Pre-production’ version. Generally, these cars are not for sale. Some of the manufacturers identify them by putting a ‘PP’ sticker on these cars. These pre-production or ‘PP’ cars are manufactured only for in-house use.
Thus, the manufacturers can monitor the performance of these cars for R&D purposes. This is mainly for producing the cars with 'zero-defect'. If the cars show any failure/error, then the manufacturers carry out the final adjustments. It includes setting up the dies and other alterations to the assembly line before the mass production begins. After the engineers eliminate these faults, then the prototype car again undergoes testing. Only after the engineers satisfy themselves with the results, then the concept car goes into the final production.
This is how the concept car finally turns into a mass-production car model. After the production, the cars reach the dealers/distributors for retail sales.
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