Paul Cerisola

Paul Cerisola

British design consultancy Envisage Group believes that the glamorous concept cars seen at motor shows often provide a poor return for their high build cost. For little more than the cost of a static model, the company is providing concept vehicles that can be driven at realistic road speeds. just-auto spoke to Paul Cerisola, Quality Manager at Envisage.

 What are the drawbacks with some traditional concept cars we see at motor shows?

The typical concept car is beautifully finished but very limited in its capability: many are static full-size models, with blacked out panels to represent the glass areas. You can walk around them but cannot interact with them in any other way. Mobile concept cars are capable of driving onto a transporter but offer little in the way of a realistic driving experience.

How would a customer benefit from having a driveable car?

Compared to a static or low-speed exhibit, it's a much more powerful tool for marketing, stimulating sales or supporting long-term investment decisions. Larger companies can greatly improve the quality of feedback from clinics and the press by showing a concept vehicle that you can sit in and drive at realistic speeds. Smaller companies can attract potential investors or buyers more easily, and at an earlier stage. Even small effects, like the nuances of light reflecting on the vehicle as it drives by, or its dynamic stance on the road in the company of competitor vehicles, can make a significant impact.

How can you create a driveable car for little more than the cost of a solid model?

There are two key factors: the very high cost of machining and 'finessing' a solid model and our ability to construct one-offs from a donor platform. Our starting point is to identify a suitable donor platform on which to build the concept car.

If a customer wants a convertible derivative from a coupe, the choice of platform is obvious. But in some cases the most appropriate donor for a new concept may be from a completely different manufacturer. Our senior engineers and vehicle architects have sufficient depth of experience of the industry to identify the optimum choice and create a finished concept that is representative in the crucial areas.

During the construction of a concept car, the physical shape is frequently modified, involving time-consuming rework. Our functional concept cars use a combination of state-of-the-art digital technology and traditional craftsmanship to capture the advantages of each.

Surface geometry is defined by the customer's CAD data that is used to produce soft tooling for all the exterior panels. If any re-shaping is subsequently required, highly skilled specialists produce the new forms manually and, once approved, the surfaces are captured through digital scanning and fed back into the CAD database, providing a faster response and a more cost-effective service.

Why haven't we seen this approach before?

We first used this technique for a client who wanted a full-size concept model in such a demanding timescale that the conventional approach was too slow. We identified suitable donor architecture on which to build the car and the customer was so impressed with the result he began to question the value of conventional machined models. At that point we realised the wider potential for supplying functional concept cars instead of traditional models.

It requires a pretty exceptional combination of knowledge, skills and facilities to be able to identify an appropriate donor platform then deliver all the engineering to unite it with the desired external forms and cabin layout. Envisage is unusual in not only combining these within a single company but in a single geographical location.

What's the difference between a functional concept car and an engineering prototype?

Engineering prototypes are built with much greater budgets, later in the programme when significant funding has been approved so they can be much closer to production intent and generate useful engineering data. Functional concept cars do not compete with engineering prototypes but form part of the decision-making process to go ahead with a project. They can also give early warning of potential issues directly improving the quality of prototype designs.

How does a functional concept car help to identify potential issues?

Complex styled surfaces often introduce challenges such as door sealing and shut lines, requiring careful hinge design and adjustment. Creating a functional concept car introduces the discipline of 'design for manufacture and assembly' which helps to avoid unforeseen issues downstream, at which point they are more expensive to fix. As more complex body-in-white material combinations are introduced, our approach helps identify any feasibility concerns regarding bonding between aluminium and composite components, the location of rivets and joint lines and other manufacturability issues, before the concept is approved.

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