Automotive Design Process: From Concept Ideas to Production

Before the production of a vehicle, automotive manufacturers ensure that each body component strikes the ideal balance between a vehicle’s aerodynamic performance, aesthetics, and ergonomics. This is accomplished through an automotive design process that considers all factors.

In this article, we’d examine the automotive design process, how to design a car, and tips to improve your design quality. Read on as we provide you with this great information.

a car from ideas to realityWhat is Automotive Design?

The automotive design process is a creative process that defines the physical appearance of a vehicle, including trucks, cars, motorcycles, etc. The design takes into consideration the exterior and interior design of the automotive. It also considers the materials like the type of metal, plastic, and fabric to use on different car parts of the vehicle, as well as paint patterns, bumpers, etc.

Automotive designers tackle the challenge of combining different aspects of a vehicle, like aesthetics, ergonomics, and aerodynamics, while meeting safety regulations.

Basic Principles of Car Design

Some principles guide the design process of a vehicle, which is why most vehicles have a striking resemblance. For instance, most cars are manufactured from the same material, mostly steel, aluminum, or other metals. They have glass windows and plastic accessories and are powered by internal combustion engines that burn fossil fuel. Here are other design basics automotive designers take into consideration.

surface curvature of cars1. Surface Curvature

While most curves are subtle, you should note that every single surface of an automobile has a curve. Simple car designs have curvature focused in one direction, with many primarily horizontal to the ground. However, recent designs tend towards a more complex and differing curvature with interactions.

2. Catwalk or Shoulder

All automobiles, especially cars, have a shoulder. It is pretty prominent in others but barely visible in some. The shoulder can rise and fall, but as a general rule of thumb, it always lies horizontally along a car’s length.

The shoulder often serves as the widest part of a car, and its width varies from car to car. It also has a curve that divides shadow and light along the car.

different car plan shape3. Plan Shape

The plan shape of a car and most automobiles are curved. The reason for this curvature is to improve aerodynamics. Aside from aerodynamics, this curvature also hides the rear and front overhangs. The top half of a vehicle houses the windows, which shape is the main area for curvature.

Additionally, the plan shape considers the windscreen angle, ensuring it is never less than 30 degrees from the horizontal. It is also important to note that plan shape curvature varies between vehicles and depends on their size.

4. Wedge

The wedge is another basic design consideration for vehicles. It is the slight angle on the upper part of the bodywork found on the shoulder line of a vehicle. While this wedge might seem just aesthetic, it is also functional, aiding aerodynamics.

5. Packaging

Packaging simply means fitting all the components of a vehicle within its specified dimensions. This aspect of designing cars is probably the most restrictive, affecting vehicle balance.

The occupants and the engine are the most important things designers consider during packaging. They play a major role in determining a vehicle’s proportions and dimensions. For example, the engine’s major considerations are the camshaft and crankshaft as they run the engine.

car wheels6. Wheels

Wheels do not have the freedom to move up and down and usually come with a radius of 300mm. As a rule of thumb, the front wheel must turn, as it helps direct a vehicle while in motion. The proportion and width of wheel to tire often varies from car to car, and so does the number of wheel nuts.

7. Other General Rules and Regulations

There are also a lot of rules and regulations involving vehicle design. These rules consider every aspect of a vehicle, from safety, comfort, interior and exterior fittings, door handles, and lights to horns. For instance, some rules guiding external projections from a car’s body include; Rims and headlamp visors not projecting more than 30mm beyond the lens surface.

Also, hinges, handles, fuel tank filler caps, and push buttons should not exceed 40mm from the external surface. What’s more, bumper ends should be recessed, integrated within the vehicle’s bodywork, or turned inwards.

The Design Process: From Initial Ideas to A Finished Car

From the initial idea, which appears as a sketch on paper, to the finished car could takes about a few years. It is also important to note that during the process, designers could discard the initial idea or change it drastically, extending the years further.

Nevertheless, below are the car design process steps from the initial idea to the finished concept car.

1. Drawing and Rendering

The first step in manufacturing a car is car design drawings. It could be a single sketch or a series of sketches by one or multiple designers. Auto manufacturers get thousands of car designs yearly from numerous designers, but about one or two get produced.

2. Packaging Considerations

We stated earlier in this article how important the concept of packaging is to a car’s design. The car designs submitted by designers are changed as manufacturers implement packaging considerations. The considerations here range from engine availability to safety requirements and drive-train layouts.

At this stage of the design process, the idea meets reality and when the designer and manufacturer reach a compromise. It is important to note that while the car is on paper, it would still need various modifications and probably re-drawings to meet engineering needs.

3D car model3. 3D Computer Modeling

This is a digital model of the vehicle’s design. The aim is to put the car’s ergonomics, functionality, and aesthetics on full display to judge its manufacturability. It begins with a computer rendering which helps designers and engineers visualize and measure the car’s physical dimensions. Also, designers continue modifying the 3D model and testing it to ensure the design is optimal at this level.

clay mold car4. Clay Model

After modeling the car on a computer, designers and engineers create a clay model. This model provides designers with a realistic view of the car they are making. The proportion is usually 1:1 and involves applying 55-600C heated clay on a metal chassis.

It is important to note that while clay remains the industry standard, alternatives are made using polymer and other materials. Polymer models are often lighter, cheaper, and easier to transport than clay ones.

car interior5. Interior Modeling

The original designer must have sketched the vehicle’s interior, but before modeling takes place, a team would have to examine the sketch. The aim is to ensure the car’s interior dimension and appearance matches the car’s overall design. After sketch approval, the 3D computer renderings and models begin.

You should note that the process required when producing models for a car’s interior and exterior are similar. The only difference is that modeling for the interior often requires prototype components and 3D printing.

automotive lighting system6. Automotive Lighting

With the interior and exterior design and model complete, engineers attach lighting and glass items to the car. These items find application both in the car’s interior and exterior. Designers use automotive lighting under the bonnet’s edge to improve the model’s aesthetics.

7. Car Color and Material Selection

After making the final design decision on the car’s interior and exterior appearance, the next step is selecting paint, fabrics, and other accessories the car would need. In this stage, designers go through several hundred options available to make the right choice.

The right color and material are chosen after a computer has harmonized the selections and completed hands-on demonstrations.

8. Testing and Material Refinement

To confirm a material, it has to withstand the use of tests and time. This ensures that the chosen material’s color does not fade quickly. Tests include environmental tests to examine how the chosen material reacts under heat, cold, and direct sunlight exposure.

Other tests include using robotic arms to thump and rub the material incessantly to see if it fails. If it fails, the designer changes the material.

9. Final Modeling on Interior and Exterior Combined

It is important to note that up until this point, the interior and exterior of the vehicle have been apart. In other words, they’ve not been in one piece.

This final modeling called the concept phase, allows designers to view the model in its full physical form and use it for marketing. It is also the phase with the most engineering considerations, as it is the final phase for design finalization.

10. Model Approval

Not every model gets approved. The model approval phase is the stage of the car manufacturing process where management decides whether to approve the model. If a model is not approved, there is zero chance of building the vehicle. On the other hand, if approval is given, the car manufacturer begins using the planned materials. Approved models are also often used for marketing, some will be sleds (not drivable since no drive train is present), while others will be fully mobile.

11. Production Begins After Engineering And Concept Completion

In this phase, engineers and car production companies like Autoprotoway that specialize in building vehicles will analyze the vehicle’s design to make production cost-effective and faster. The details taken into consideration include how to couple individual parts as well as sourcing materials used. The production engineers would also lay out the plan and schedule for completing different stages, from the bare frame to the finished car.

It is important to note that most vehicle designs take about 3 to 5 years to move from the initial concept to the finished car. Some even eclipse the 6 years mark.

8 Tips to Increase Quality in Automotive Design

The automotive design process seeks to combine vehicle aesthetics and functionality. However, it is often not an easy process, as seen by the time it takes from ideation to finished car. So, here are 8 tips to increase quality in automotive design.

improve car design1. Test Design

Testing your design often is one way to ensure minimal errors arise during the final stages of vehicle production. It also verifies the feasibility of your design, ensuring it works.

Automobile companies test their vehicle’s viability and safety by producing prototypes. Testing includes crash tests, where companies test the vehicle’s sensors, airbags, and overall hardware. An aerodynamic test also examines vehicle design stability when driving and maneuvering through sharp corners.

2. Conduct Regular Inspections

One way to improve design and vehicle quality is by conducting vehicle inspections. Conducting inspections at every stage of the manufacturing process helps ensure that the different components, when assembled, fit and stay together.

Regular inspections are beneficial as it makes for easy detection and correction of design flaws. It also greatly reduces the number of defective vehicles and recalls, thus saving costs in the long run.

optic car parts3. Make The Process Automated

Automating a process reduces human interference, ensuring the process runs continuously. Also, it reduces the incidence of errors as machines are more reliable with better precision than humans.

Automation ensures no mistakes in the assembly of vehicle parts and gears. Additionally, it improves production efficiency while ensuring the production of high-quality vehicles.

4. Invest In Proper Facilities and Technology

Proper technology and adequate facilities are the first steps in producing good-quality designs and vehicles. The right facilities and a good environment for production foster creativity among designers while boosting productivity. Facilities used in producing vehicles should include research equipment and amenities, which would help keep designers abreast of current trends.

5. Laud Creativity

Creativity is creating something out of nothing, a highly valued skill in automotive design. Encouraging creativity in an auto design environment engenders innovation. It also motivates designers while building interpersonal relationships.

6. Human Capital Investments

Human capital means your employees’ or workers’ experience or skill level. In other words, you have to employ competent designs to have top-notch designs.

Additionally, it is often best to conduct regular training and seminars for employees to help them hone and improve their design skills.

7. Remain Trendy

Like fashion, automotive design trends change too. For instance, car designs were boxy in the 1960s but a tad more circular now. Also, electric and hybrid vehicles are the current trend, and people often buy them due to their numerous benefits. Knowing the latest market trend is one way to ensure you stay current in car designs.

8. Know What Your Target Customers Want

Knowing what your target customers or market want would help you create better designs. The goal of every automobile manufacturer is to make quality cars, and keeping your customers in mind would help you achieve that seamlessly.

aluminum reflectorChoose Autoprotoway for Prototyping and Part Production of Your Car Design

Do you have a car design idea yet are unsure how to go about its production? Then Autoprotoway is just the right company for you. We are a professional automotive prototyping and part production company with experts and equipment catering to your car design needs from prototyping to production.

To support and meet all requirements from the automotive engineering and development cycle, we offer sophisticated prototype manufacturing, custom machining, and rapid tooling. We have great experience to be your best overall automotive development partner, handling everything from the proof of concept to structural, engineering tests, and pre-production verification.

Additionally, we provide the exact prototype and parts to verify your design and engineering with the tightest tolerance +/-0.01 mm & ISO 9001. Just upload your CAD files and start your projects today!


How long is the design process for a car?

The designing timeline for a car ranges anywhere from 3 – 5 years. The time taken depends on the type of vehicle and if it already exists in the market.

What are the important factors in car design?

Strong feature lines, great proportions, the right platform, and a good stance are important factors in car design. For instance, getting the platform wrong equals getting the whole car design wrong.

What does CCC mean in automobiles?

The CCC mark or China Compulsory Certificate Mark is mandatory for products manufactured in or imported into China.

Hi, click here to send us a message. 欢迎随时与我们联系~