The evolution of a new car is a long, exacting process
It’s an old cliche in Hollywood – an overnight star, 10 years in the making.
The same is true of the car you drive. The new machines that are rolling into dealerships in 2016 first took shape in someone’s mind at least eight or nine years ago – if not longer.
That’s because the process of building a car is a long, painstaking one that that involves thousands of engineers, thousands of hours of testing and hundreds of millions of dollars.
So what is that process and how can you see clues of what is to come?
We sat down with two people crucial to the development of the new Range Rover Evoque convertible to find out. Michelle O’Connor was the engineering manager on the car and Dave Roynon is Land Rover’s product PR manager.
The Evoque convertible begins in 2006 when Land Rover was investigating ways to expand its Range Rover line-up.
Having added the Range Rover Sport to sit just below the iconic luxury off-roader, the company then considered their options for an even smaller offering.
That study resulted in the LRX concept that was revealed to the public in January 2008 at the Detroit Motor Show. There are a variety of reasons for car makers to produce a concept car and car makers can pick any or all of them depending on their needs at the time.
The first is to showcase a particular form of new technology. The second is to preview a new design language, to test public reaction or just get them ready for what is about to come.
The third type of concept is the near-production version, that is merely a thinly disguised version of the real thing that will launch in the very near future; typically within a matter of years.
For Land Rover, the LRX proved such a hit that the production version was green-lit with minimal design changes.
By 2010 Land Rover revealed the production version of the Evoque and it was around this time that the idea of a convertible version of the luxury SUV began to form within the company.
So in 2011 the Evoque convertible concept car was built and revealed to the public at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
The idea of the convertible was two-fold. Firstly, to maintain the interest around the model in an increasingly crowded luxury SUV market. Secondly, to ensure Range Rover remained a design-leader.
The Evoque five-door proved so popular, the company decided to support that fully and put the drop-top project on hold. Work on the production version of the Evoque Convertible didn’t begin in earnest until 2014.
With a strong positive public reaction to the convertible, the design was quickly approved for production.
The challenge then became to create something that worked in the real world. In the case of the Evoque convertible, that meant being a highly capable off-roader as well.
The first step was to take the design of the concept and have it scanned and digitised. That digital model was turned into a Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawing that the engineers could work on.
For the convertible, the engineers needed to work out how to keep the body rigid without a roof to hold it steady. That meant designing additional bracing underneath the body.
By late 2014 the first working prototypes of the Evoque Convertible were built at Jaguar Land Rover’s engineering facility in Gaydon.
Using the cover of darkness the team took the prototypes out onto the road to begin real world testing.
‘‘We used to go out at night through the [English] middle-winter of 2014/15 and never ever got caught in the nine months before the reveal,’’ Roynon says.
While Land Rover was lucky, taking a prototype vehicle out onto public roads carries the risk of exposure.
Automotive development includes putting the car through a testing rig inside the facilities too, and using artificial temperature, humidity and road conditions to push the components to the limit. But simulated tests only go so far according to O’Connor.
‘‘There’s no substitute for actually getting on the road,’’ she admits.
Arguably the most important step in the process, and one that often gets overlooked due to its lack of glamour, is how you actually bolt the cars together.
The design has to be productionised, turned into something that can be built down an assembly line and done so for the right price and in a minimum of time.
‘‘Productionising it is another key challenge and the way JLR works, and a number of other companies, is everything is done in parallel,’’ says O’Connor.
‘‘So while you’re making sure the thing is stiff, making sure it is engineered correctly and meets the targets [you’re also] making sure you can build the thing.
During the 12 months prior to launch the team responsible for the car also began testing out the machinery that will build it, creating the ‘hard tool functional and preproduction prototypes. Once all the teams involved are happy production of the car is ready to begin.
In March the car was launched to the world’s media in order to begin the marketing process – the end of a development journey that started a decade ago.
Range Rover Evoque convertible concept was a big hit at motor shows. That’s why it got the green light.