The fine art of camouflaging test cars

An upcoming launch spotted without any camouflage would take a lot of the oomph out of the car’s eventual unveiling, both in terms of the vehicle’s design and also its features.

BHPian ChiragM recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Cars today need to be tested across the length and breadth of the country in vastly different terrain and weather conditions. During these road tests, it’s essential to stay away from prying eyes of the over-eager automobile enthusiasts, who would be more than happy to share pictures of the test mules on social media. An upcoming launch spotted without any camouflage would take a lot of the oomph out of the car’s eventual unveiling, both in terms of the vehicle’s design and also its features. Unsurprisingly, manufacturers wish to keep that ace up their sleeve for as long as they can, and are willing to go to great lengths to do so.

Obscuring the visual information by using camouflage is the weapon of choice. It’s quick & dirty, cost-effective, and just so happens to be the universal solution.

Before we get to the different types of camouflage we have seen so far, let’s first see how the popular black and white pattern came to be. It was created by British artist Norman Wilkinson in 1918 when he was in the Royal Navy. He wrapped the ship in black and white patterns to confuse the enemy’s perception of a ship’s size, speed and travel direction. It worked so well that around 4,000 camouflaged ships were used in World War 1.

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Over the years, car companies have tried various tricks in the book to fool spy photographers. These include using fake body parts like fenders and hoods, using cloth coverings, printed vinyl wraps and even matte black wraps. The most common style is the black and white patterned wraps which can throw off even the trained eye. It’s not just the eye they want to fool, the patterns are apparently designed to not allow cameras to focus easily, resulting in blurry images. With the advanced pace at which camera technology has been moving, I wonder if this still holds true. These wraps can be across the whole body, or in the case of facelifts, only on certain updated body parts.

Some crafty manufacturers get extremely creative too. Back in 2010, Volkswagen tried to camouflage the Vento as a Ford sedan! Tweaks to the bodywork and Ford-like badges had quite a few BHPians scratching their heads.

Audi claims that the black and white theme, especially glossy white, helps break the car’s body lines. While some manufacturers hide everything from prying eyes, Audi uses black in places as it reveals certain parts of the design, while the white covers it. This gives out a teaser to the automotive community on what to expect from a product (revealing certain creases or ensuring the shape of the grille is seen so spotters can identify the make of the car which means more positive exposure in the media). A good marketing move I must say, as it builds anticipation. Audi has also used fluoro paint in places in the camouflage to mislead the eye from identifying the design elements of the car.

Unique livery on the e-tron:

Occasionally manufacturers take things beyond basic geometrics, and use identifiable elements in their patterns; like partying men and even the company logo.

Viking helmet is the Ares logo, as seen on their Panther test-mule:

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Partying man motif gets your eyes to dance around the Evoque’s curves:

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While testing the 8C, Alfa Romeo chose to go the other way with what looks like a patchwork of randomly placed tape on various parts of the bodywork:

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Sometimes the most effective solution is also the easiest one. A blanket cover on the Audi A7 prototype:

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Not sure if test-mule or teenage owner – a matt black wrap on the Civic:

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Yellow and black pattern on a Mini Cooper:

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Tapes on a Bentley to obscure its looks:

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Car makers also slowly remove camouflage from certain parts of the car revealing certain features. Case in point – when Mahindra’s XUV700 was spotted with a panoramic sunroof:

A lot of work goes into designing a custom camo wrap for a car so that it looks good and fits perfectly. Skoda claims it took artists 120 hours to disguise the ENYAQ iV. The design is first drawn and then a mockup is produced using Photoshop. Changes are also made after it is fit onto the car’s body to ensure that it gives viewers a glimpse of the future without revealing too much. One of the most critical areas is the front end as it gives away the face of the car. Adding a mask to the car would prevent viewers from seeing what’s going on. However, at the same time, the camouflage should not affect the air flow and the engine’s cooling, and neither should it interfere with the car’s front cameras and sensors.

Covering the face of the Mustang was crucial for Ford, since it’s such a pivotal point of the styling:

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To throw off enthusiasts, car makers usually start testing the car’s mechanical components like a new drivetrain in the body of an existing car. For example, while testing the Skoda Kushaq and the Volkswagen Taigun, the VW group used bodies of the Skoda Kamiq as well as the Seat Arona. Car makers are also known to use the bodies of cars on sale in the market (Ferrari is using the body from a Maserati Levante to test the Purosangue). In such cases, tell-tale signs like minimal camouflage and sometimes raised ground clearance, distorted bodies and uncharacteristic exhaust note give the game away.

Here’s a Maserati Levante test mule in the body of a Ghibli. The raised ground clearance gives it away:

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Once the car enters the road testing phase, bulky plastic or foam padding is used to conceal the shape of body parts. Temporary head lights and tail lights are used as seen in the case of the Mahindra XUV700. However, with this padded approach, engineers cannot test the aerodynamics and parameters like wind noise. It’s only in the final few stages of testing that we see the actual body with production-spec parts with a printed vinyl wrap.

Temporary headlights on an early prototype of the XUV700:

Take a look at how Kia has added this thick padding to the back of the Sonet. Makes it look like a bigger SUV:

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It’s not just the exterior. Sometimes, people peep into unguarded stationary test cars to snap a glimpse of the interior as well. To prevent leaks of the interior, many parts are also covered with camouflage, usually a black fabric. However, key parts like the vents, instrument dials and essential controls need to be left uncovered so they can be accessed by the driver. Sometimes, even the roof-liner is covered so as not to give away the presence or size of the sunroof.

Covered interior of a Mahindra XUV700:

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The mesh design on the windows is there to reduce people from seeing inside and getting a good photo:

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Side windows covered with a one-way vision print prevent people from seeing inside. However, the same cannot be done to the front windows:

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Sometimes the camo wraps themselves are used to promote the product or to run advertisements. This gives car makers an excellent public stage to tease the car before the launch. Audi showcased a camouflaged version of the A8 to the public for the first time at the premiere of Spider Man: Homecoming. The car had a spider web design on it. Before its launch, Skoda’s Kodiaq appeared as the lead car at the 2019 Tour de France. Some of Audi’s test cars had Red Bull’s logo on the side as well.

Brand promotion happens on test cars in India as well. Building up to the launch, the Mahindra XUV700 had #HelloXUV700 written on the sides of the wrap:

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Recently, Skoda held a camouflage design competition where people could submit their own artwork, and the winning pattern would be used on the upcoming Skoda sedan. Cool idea for a competition! Here are the 5 finalists:

Lastly, take a look at this video where BMW engineers add plastic panels to the car to camouflage it. A 3D design is first rendered in a computer and only then the car’s exterior as well as interior are covered.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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