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Sketch to showroom: What goes wrong?

By David Bonnici, 26 Feb 2018 Features

Sketch to showroom What goes wrong

Why do car makers insist on teasing us with concept sketches that ultimately bear little resemblance to the finished product?

WE'RE used to things looking nothing like their picture – Big Macs, hotel rooms, internet dates – but that doesn’t stop us being a tad disappointed when reality doesn’t conform to expectation.

Vehicle concept renderings are no different. Despite knowing better, we get excited by the embellished sweeping lines, doorless sides and Hot Wheels-like rims only to cry foul when the new Nissan Micra looks nothing like a bullet with wheels.

Our misguided optimism isn’t helped by the car makers’ marketing teams, who complement such images with false promises as a certain Korean manufacturer did earlier this month in the lead-up to the launch of its new Ceed hatch, which is expected to share looks with the Cerato.

Kia released a teaser sketch shortly before the big reveal showing a demonic red, coupe-like hatch with an “athletic” design “inspired by the fastback styling of the Stinger”, only for the real thing to drop a week later channelling a 2010 Subaru Impreza.

Kia is hardly alone here; Hyundai did similar with its next-gen Santa Fe, so why is there a disconnect between the renderings and the finished cars?

Paul Beranger, an automotive design consultant and the man behind cars such as the LJ Torana and the Toyota Aurion, told Wheels that renderings were meant to be the first step in the process of selling a design to the car maker’s management, meaning they had to look as sexy as possible.

“They’ve got to reflect as strongly as possible the ambitions of the designer in terms of the creative style they want to generate in the finished design,” Beranger said.

“So it’s very important that the initial concepts are eye catching, they’re emotional and they drive people towards a more rational decision as the process of the design evolves.

“Gradually the emotion and the rational merge and as they do there’s compromise on both sides, from a technical point of view and an aesthetic point of view.”

Beranger, who started his design career with Holden, worked around the world and then running Toyota Australia’s design team before retiring in 2012, said it was unusual for renderings to be pitched to the public within days before a full reveal, as with the Kia Ceed.

“These days it’s almost always a teaser photograph of the finished car. When you get to launch-minus-12-months the design’s locked in, its then up to the marketing guys to actually start figuring out how to launch this car to the public.

“It’s always a risk. You can excite the market and I guess you can over-promise and under-deliver, but at the same time I would guarantee you 100 percent that was a strategic decision they (Kia) made for whatever reason,” he said.

“It’s just as likely the designer was asked to create a couple of sketches of the emotion about the car’s design and what it all means, so when the car is released people are already excited about it. How deflated they might get about it because it’s not like the sketch, that’s really the marketing conundrum.”

Paradoxically, renderings are often used early in a car’s launch cycle to prevent disappointment by easing people into a new look. Beranger said this is exactly what Holden did with the new Commodore.

“With the Commodore, drawings were used to softly release the car to the public, so that when the car was launched they weren’t all of a sudden hit with a five-door hatchback, front-wheel drive, four-cylinder turbo,” he said.

“Holden decided they would gradually leak information about the car, styling as well as mechanical, and at the point people would start to be comfortable with the car even before it was launched.

“Holden were pre-empting the negative criticism and squashing that before launch.”