Features

The secret world of car development

From concept to showroom-ready, we take a look at the people, the places and the prototypes behind a new performance car’s evolution

When a new car goes on sale to the public, it’s usually the result of a six-year process; one that begins with an idea and flourishes through the digital space and on to the opaque world of the automotive development industry. Using the latest Bentley Continental GT as an example, below we’ll detail the different types of cars involved in that development process and what their roles are in realising an incredibly complex product.

Before that, consider that initial styling sketches and digital engineering work will have begun in year two, following the first 12 months of product idea generation, profiling, and the definition of requirements, competitors and target markets. By the third year, prototype vehicles will be running in digital form, amassing thousands of virtual miles before a wheel is turned in reality. The same year, the first physical test vehicles will start to appear, still up to four years before the finished product is ready for customers.

Simulators (years 3-4)

Simulators are what we commonly refer to as mules. You know the kind of thing: the chopped-up luxury saloon running around with the guts of a new sports coupe underneath its familiar – albeit distorted – exterior. These are the mutant, Frankenstein cars. In the case of the Continental GT, Bentley purchased 25 Panamera development cars from Porsche (examples from later in the development process) and contracted out their modification to a specialist firm, which removed a chunk of metal from the wheelbase in line with the specification of the new GT. Fitted with a Bentley engine hooked up for the first time to a PDK ’box, this is where the physical gestation of the new Continental GT begins.

Prototypes (years 4-5)

With the digital prototype phase completed, simulators accruing miles and the final styling model signed off and into its refinement stage, this is the point – usually around three years before the car will reach customers – that the first prototypes of the car will appear. They are rarely seen in public, and if so are usually clad in fake panels to disguise the real thing.

The cars have been built by hand, and therefore are extremely expensive – think millions. It’s the increasing adoption of digital design and prototyping that is reducing the number of these costly prototypes that need to be built. For the Conti, 25 physical prototypes were made, but for larger and more mainstream brands that fleet will be far larger.

Pre-production (years 5-6)

Somewhere up to two years before launch the first cars start to be built using a repeatable production system – tooling, in other words. In VW Group speak, these are known as VFF – Vorserien Freigabe Fahrzeug, or pre-release vehicle. Most of the core engineering work is done by now, but much fine-tuning lies ahead. These are the cars you’ll see, wearing body disguise or camouflage patterns, pounding around testing facilities, braving the cold in the arctic, or high-speed running in the desert. As the process evolves, a reference VFF car will be kept and updated with newer parts based on the fleet’s development. These cars are then replaced by PVS (Produktions Versuchs Serie – production trial series) as the car nears the final 12 months of its development. Changes at this point are small – a minor ECU calibration, work on wind seals, tuning of the exhaust note.

The final development vehicles are known as the 0-Series, and should be representative of the final car. It will be from one of these that the exact specification is frozen, then replicated potentially millions of times on the production line. Despite being ostensibly identical to the cars that you or I may buy from a showroom, 0-Series cars can never be sold. They’re often used for international press launches, dealer events and possibly future training work, but many end their lives in crash testing and almost all will eventually be scrapped – 0-Series Bugatti Chirons, included.

Most Popular

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK
Porsche 911 GT3 Touring – rear profile
Porsche 911 GT3

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK

The Touring pack has returned, combining the 992 GT3’s set-up with more understated looks
15 Jun 2021
BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance
BMW M5 CS – front cornering
BMW M5 saloon

BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance

Nonsensical on paper, but sublime in practice. Never has a modern supersaloon been more tactile or more engaging
14 Jun 2021
The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive
evo archive – LaFerrari truck extraction – stop!
Ferrari

The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive

How do you get a £1million hypercar out of the back of a delivery truck? Very, very, slowly…
15 Jun 2021
Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come
Mercedes-AMG GT53 MY22 – front tracking
Mercedes

Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come

GT43 and GT53 4-Doors receive a refresh while we await the arrival of the V8 hybrid GT73
14 Jun 2021
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition – slide
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act

Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
12 Jun 2021
MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers
Tesla Model S Plaid
Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers

The long-awaited Tesla Model S Plaid has finally come to fruition, with first US examples hitting the road
11 Jun 2021
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – front quarter
BMW 7 Series

Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models

All-new saloon to feature IC and EV powertrains, but once again it’ll also lead the way aesthetically
16 Jun 2021
GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer
GTO Engineering interior
Ferrari

GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer

New details, including the interior, have been revealed about the GTO Engineering Squalo
15 Jun 2021
Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder
Posaidon Mercedes-AMG E63
Mercedes E63 AMG

Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder

Three new Posaidon power upgrades are now available for Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, bringing hypercar numbers to the four door supersaloon
9 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals 11 June 21
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
11 Jun 2021
Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?
Jethro opinion header
Opinion

Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?

The boot struts have gone saggy and the hatch slams onto my head three times a week, but the Clio Trophy is hard to resist
8 Jun 2021
Forza Horizon 5 confirmed for November 2021 – open-world driving game heads to Mexico
Forza Horizon 5
videogames

Forza Horizon 5 confirmed for November 2021 – open-world driving game heads to Mexico

The open-world Forza Horizon series has become a go-to for car fans, and its fifth installment is just around the corner
15 Jun 2021