Now that cars are connected, your automaker will often download updates remotely, but even cars that aren’t on-line often receive a small upgrade during manufacturing that cars the month before didn’t get.
Why would you hide the improvements in a car? Well it’s all to do keeping things from the competition. If things are the development stage it might be that the improvement is not carried into production, in which case it may well be snapped up by the competition.
Take the BMW which has updated headlights and taillights. The only reason that anyone knows about it is that BMW released this information. So BMW didn’t make a big promotion around their new concept lights, they just quietly upgraded their production model and then later in the year they announced that it had been done. This could be because they had many units on show room floors with the old type of light, that wouldn’t sell if people knew the upgraded lights were on their way.
There is such a thing as industrial espionage, but it tends to be about stealing technological advantages. The kind of corporate espionage that leads to releasing information to the public revolves around safety issues etc.
By far the most common type of secret upgrade is the upgrades to the design being considered for future production models. The reason for keeping these prototypes secret may seem obvious. Of course, they don’t want competitors to steal the design, but also car makers also test out ideas that don’t actually go into production. It’s hard to get the public to feel warm about a car if a popular potential feature disappears before the real production design is decided.
Things Automakers do to Hide Upgrades
Sometimes part of a vehicle is obscured, as is the case with this new BMW, when a cloth was placed over the dashboard when the car made early public appearances. It created rumors of a new infotainment system, but it seems the manufacturer isn’t giving that much away.
Car manufacturers have secured test facilities, but they’ve not had much luck keeping prying eyes completely away. So automakers often test early prototypes in these facilities and when a design gets more recognizable, like the 2020 Nissan Centra, then the new prototype is tested in the desert. In countries where this is not possible, anywhere out of the reach of prying eyes.
Back in the day, automakers would go a step further and cover the headlamps and grilles with tape to keep the exact model a little more mysterious. Nowadays they employ a process called “pattern wrapping.”
What is pattern wrapping? Well it’s the equivalent of pasting a car up and applying wallpaper to it. There are a myriad of designs, starting with something basic like zigzags or diamonds and moving into something like a paisley pattern and moving into weirder shapes and patterns. You may have seen some pattern-wrapped cars and wondered why someone would want to camouflage their sports sedan. The goal is to make it difficult for a competitor to computer scan the vehicle and make educated guesses at the features being hidden.
You might have thought that any pattern could be applied to a car, but this seems to be not the case. The pride in manufacture of a car extends to getting the best pattern to hide it!
Specialist designers are employed to do this task. While the idea of the pattern is through off the specific car its worth mentioning that certain manufacturers like certain artwork. Ford for instance tends to go for something calligraphic, while General Motors prefers a geometric pentagon design. It’s not clear whether these manufacturers like the designers or the design when they do this.
Another reason for keeping a prototype secret is that some prototypes don’t really go into production. The home office may ultimately drop the ensemble while choosing to move some of the elements to existing product lines.
For example, with something like the Cayenne Cabriolet. (A cabriolet is a car with a roof that folds down.) If you are trying to combine a folding top with an SUV, two questions need to be resolved:
- From a design standpoint, what would it even look like?
- Would the buying public really want it?
Porsche seem to have some plans in this direction, but as hinted to above it’s a bit difficult to work out and it’s a bad idea to show the public something if plans are going into fruition.