Car makers hide prototypes from spy shots

April 23rd, 2009 - 11:26 am ICT by IANS  

By Thomas Geiger
Arjeplog (Sweden), April 23 (DPA) Car makers are very creative about hiding their prototypes from amateur photographers and paparazzi just waiting to snap a spy shot of the new model.

“The natural enemy of the prototype is the horsepower paparazzi,” says Peter Gyllenberg, who runs a test centre in Arjeplog, Sweden, where many car makers hold winter tests.

Why do car makers go to such great efforts to hide their new models? “Because we don’t want to put our cards on the table all at once,” says Ludwig Mann from the Opel development centre in Russelsheim where he is responsible for camouflage.

“We also have to take care not to harm the sales prospects of the current model by not talking too much about all the advantages of the new model,” says Falko Mayer from Audi, who is responsible for the prototypes.

Not all the tests can be conducted secretly in the development centres. As a result, the car has to have been on the road for at least two years prior to production and can only be protected by means of a special disguise.

Thick green or blue foils are used to paste over the bodywork, Mann says. But that is not all, says Michael Harder, who put the new Opel Astra through its paces in the Arctic Circle. The major lines are covered with padding and the window frames and headlights disguised.

Vehicles with designs such as the new BMW Z4 sports car receive special treatment. “We wanted to keep our competition in the dark as long as possible on whether we were using a vinyl or metal roof for the roadster,” says Timo Goebel who headed the development of the Z4.

In the past, simple camouflage foils in matte black served their purpose. But in the age of digital cameras and picture editing programmes, the car makers have had to become more creative. Opel is now using a modified black and white chequered pattern. BMW uses a pattern on the X1 prototype that is reminiscent of hippie art with psychedelic circles.

Test drivers of prototypes have the privilege of driving the latest models, but are forced to work at the most inopportune times because of all the nosey paparazzi.

“To minimise the danger of being discovered we have a strict night driving rule,” says Audi developer Mayer. So, when his colleagues clock off work, that signals the start of his next test drive.

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