The evo­lu­tion of a new car is a long, ex­act­ing process

The Invercargill Eye - - MOTORING - In the be­gin­ning From dig­i­tal dream to reality Into the wild If you build it...

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.

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