A peek under the cover at Mladá Boleslav’s design process.
Car companies are rarely known for the philanthropy, charity work or comedy. Surely those who work within must see forms of any (or hopefully all) of these at some point. Making cars though is a serious business; livelihoods and reputations are at stake and those stakes are high. Thank goodness then for a small window opening into what is normally the most secretive of worlds – that of the prototype.
In this domain, security is king; no mobile phones, no contact with outsiders, no leaks to press. Over three hundred souls are committed to these projects and that must take some robust management. Presumably they are let out home from time to time, only to keep Schtum on what their workday contained. “Bit of modelling today, love. Yes, like Airfix…”
Škoda’s department for such is known internally as EGV with studios in the Mladá Boleslav, Kvasiny along with Vrchlabí factories, all contributing to the whole. Consider that by the time the flash bulbs pop and the internet lights up with spy photos and second guesses at the new model, these guys are already on to the next project. Old news to them the ‘new’ model.
The favoured medium in the first instance is clay with its ubiquitous ease of sculpting, in the right hands. Gently and delicately skimming the surface to create a shape, millimetres or fractions of, at a time. Having watched several videos of these sculptors, it can make me quite soporific yet also highly engaging at the same time. Anyone with skill can make their job look easy. The last time I handled clay was probably aged seven and the results weren’t great. Think what a dinosaur may have left behind millions of years ago – not at all the mug it should’ve been.
That clay model (of the car, not dinosaur poo) is full size. This then allows the 3D scanner to play its tune to render a computer image ready for altering in the virtual world. These virtual presentations or scenes are then open to the department to gain a feel for the model in question in a variety of locations, themes, colour schemes or whatever else has been considered correct. Different angles, interiors, backgrounds and even views from within are all digitally viewed and altered.
From the point of the EGV staff, once these digital renditions are complete, they can use these to make a working prototype with processes to ease manufacturing should the green light be given.
The process takes on a different format now; the designing and delivery of manufacturing tools and parts, the planning of the manufacturing process and development of the software to assist in production and for that of the completed vehicle. After this, it’s breakdown time; reverse the above processes so that down to the last screw fitting is arranged and accounted for.
The car can now take shape: both factory robots along with hands-on human fettling occurs. From the chassis department arrives one that rolls and thus the marriage occurs and finally the car can be given life so that all components can be tested. Even with today’s technical advances, many test models must made for physical trialling as opposed to the computer screen. And we know that once these have been used, abused and analysed to the last possible detail, they are just as quickly discarded. Well, not quite for most of the materials can be recycled into proper cars when full manufacturing begins.
By the time any Škoda has made it through to production, the test models will have collectively undergone two million kilometres of real world testing and thousands of hours of simulated wear and tear. Checking, re-checking and analysing and forever aiming for improvement should components fail or not make the grade. The EGV staff can save manufacturing time by installing new-found processes should failings occur.
But what, dear reader do you consider them to have made? The latest SUV? To tap into the exponential rise of these faux four by fours? An avant-garde roadster to prove that Volkswagen underpinnings can make for a great looking and driving machine (even if the current market seems otherwise?) Or perhaps a totally unexpected twist as a Brit-friendly convertible makes it debut, electrified, naturally?
Well, it’s none of these. For though the EGV chaps and chap-esses have revealed something of their process, they were hardly going to allow is to really see the next big thing heading out from the Czech Republic. This is whimsical glimpse. A folly. An automotive joke but not in bad taste. On the contrary, if you watch the video, most of the involvement includes smiles, some of them beaming. Pride here is strong, it would seem.
This car is a real, friendly ghost. What will eventually rise from the mysterious realms of this division, perhaps only the spirits know. I, for one look forward to finding out.