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How Automakers Keep Their Prototypes From Prying Eyes

Secrets, secrets are no fun...until they are

Leo Shvedsky
September 22 2021
Trying to hide: Shutterstock

Secrecy is the key to the element of surprise, and surprise is the key to increased market share. We’re pretty sure Sun Tzu said that, or maybe it was us trying to sound philosophical. Regardless of who said what and when, the fact remains that car manufacturers go to great lengths to shroud their prototypes in what they invariably imagine to be Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility.

Industrial secrecy is definitely nothing new, and is certainly not exclusive to cars. But there is something about the lengths to which car companies will go and what those lengths actually look like, that got our curiosity juices flowing like NOS to an engine in a Fast & Furious racer.  

There are a variety of reasons car makers keep their secrets so secret. Some are to hide design specs, so that eager enthusiasts like us continue to salivate at any morsel of information. Others are to obscure sensitive new tech from competing companies.   

The main tool in the quest for ultimate stealth is arguably the oldest: the age-old art of camouflage. Human fascination with creatures blending into their surrounding goes back to Aristotle commenting on the usefulness of camouflage over three-thousand years ago.

Some camo is better for hiding than others:

You’d think we’ve learned a thing or two since then. But if you look at the image above, a purposeful cover made by BMW to conceal their prototype, you might be disappointed. We’re willing to wager that even your colorblind pup can tell that’s a BMW. If anything, that pattern draws more attention to it. However, it is difficult to tell which series. Our money is on the 5-series, but good job, BMW, you kept us guessing.

You can’t fool us. That‘s a truck...:

Sometimes companies will use special high-tech pads and materials to hide parts of a prototype’s new and proprietary tech. Sure, we can tell that the above is a Ford Bronco, but is it the rumored Raptor model or maybe an entirely different one. Also, we’re not able to see any sensors on the finder, whether the doors are removable, or discern anything that’s on the body. We actually wonder if the point here was to hide the fact this was the Bronco. Perhaps they thought they could throw people off the scent, but it takes more than that to us sleuths in the dark!  

Typically, the first step in hiding a vehicle is to outfit it in hard plastic and soft foam. This is then peeled off during the next step where, according to Dave Pericak., the chief engineer of the Ford Mustang, carmakers apply checkerboard-patterned adhesive vinyl to try to "fool the eye into not seeing what is there," when testing cars for things like aerodynamics and wind noise.

Who knows what is hiding under there:

If all else fails you can always just throw a burlap sack over your secret. It’s the tried and true method of hiding anything prying eyes. In the above example one can only make out the fact that it’s a sedan under there. Is it a coupe or a four-door? Actually we happen to know it’s an Audi A7, but if we told you, would you have guessed? We’re guessing no, and we’re experts at guessing.  

So the next time you see a car that looks like the puppy wagon from Dumb and Dumber  don’t just write it off as something nuts. You may have just witnessed history…



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