Car construction: how a car is developed

The first car tinkerers were Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz and Wilhelm Maybach. They tinkered and soldered towards the end of the 19th century. At the end of the twentieth century, the automotive industry is working on new types of internal combustion engines in its workshops. Soon, the first vehicles were jolting along the stony roads of southern Germany, no longer pulled by horses or cattle. The horsepower of the new cars now came from rattling and smoking prime movers. A revolution!

Today, the descendants of these lonely car tinkerers sit in spick-and-span offices in front of the large screens of their computers. They fine-tune clay models that are barely bigger than a bobby car. They fly thousands of kilometers into the wasteland to test drive their new cars. Car building has changed completely. And somehow not. Because at the beginning, anything is still possible ..

In the beginning: A white paper

“We’ll start with a blank sheet of paper”, says Hans Engel. The Mercedes engineer set himself and his team a task more than five years ago: We want the “A-Class” develop completely new! What could the smallest car in the Mercedes family look like in the future?? This question cannot be answered in an afternoon, not even by a single person. Though unexpected flashes of inspiration sometimes strike in a designer’s quiet chamber. But production is one thing above all – teamwork.

Interview with car designer Mark Fetherston

Englishman Mark Fetherston has been working as a designer for Mercedes for a good ten years now. The shape of the new A-Class was born out of his ideas – and built a bit on sand ..

How to become a car designer?

I have always been artistically talented. I can draw well and also think three-dimensionally. Added to this was a burning interest in cars, planes and speed.

How to design a new model?

When we start, we already know the proportions of the car: how high it should be, how long. Then you try everything. Actually, it’s the same thing I used to do as a ten-year-old on a Sunday afternoon in my room: just drawing away and having fun!

Where to get your best ideas?

Anywhere and at any time of day. Nature excites me the most, which is why I often go to the zoo. Good design should be timeless – and the species haven’t changed for thousands of years.

Nature was also the model for the A-Class?

Yes, especially sand dunes. I have some posters hanging next to my desk. The dunes have a very soft movement and a very sharp edge at the top. We tried to bring this contrast into the design of the car.

Research and technology

Knowledge Research and Technology

All for one

Mercedes’ main plant is located in the Swabian city of Sindelfingen. There, a core team of about ten gathered to think about the new car. Each is an expert in his own field: designer, engine developer, constructor, accessories buyer. Even the company’s sales professionals are already involved in these initial meetings. Because they know what has to be on and in a car to make it just as popular to drive in New York as it is in Nuremberg.

Before the work can really get underway, the carmakers literally need a framework within which they can later operate. The “proportion model” is used for this purpose. It determines the external dimensions of the car: where the wheel axles sit, how big the trunk should be, how much legroom the passengers can enjoy? Then, after about half a year, it’s mainly the designers and engineers who call the shots – and they often contradict each other in the process. Because the designers may have a preference for a particularly sporty shape.

It may be quite nice, say the engineers, but we’ll never get the engine we’ve come up with into a sporty car! It’s a time for hair-pulling, chin-scratching and finding compromises. “We’ve wrestled with the A-Class for a long time in this phase. Sometimes you have to go round and round until you reach the desired result”, says Hans Engel.

Brought into shape

After that, the designers really get to work. They produce clay models that are about a quarter of the size of the future car. They try out different “faces the radiator grille right at the front. They also test different edges on the sides along the doors and several variants of the rear end. Just like plasticine, clay is a quick and easy way to turn any idea into reality. But some suggestions fall by the wayside, says Hans Engel. “Designers who have put a lot of heart and soul into their development can then be very disappointed.”

Car manufacturing: How cars are developed

Testing, testing, testing

Almost two years of work have now gone into the A-Class. And the circle of people working on the car grows larger step by step from now on. In the factory, mechanics build the first prototypes, which are models that already have all the important features of the new car – shape, size and weight. The first five prototypes, however, have a very short fate: “They get crashed, so angels.

In these crash tests, the technicians find out how the car behaves in a serious accident, whether and how it protects its occupants from serious injury. Safety always has priority. Meanwhile, in the wind tunnel, technicians test the air resistance of the car body. Then, finally, the vehicles may go out into the wild! It is still more than two years before they can be bought. The test drives are therefore strictly secret, the cars are covered with plastic or thick protective film.

Steers one of these “Erlkonige” If the car stops at a service station, it is even covered with an additional tarpaulin, a real camouflage cap. No one is supposed to catch a glimpse of it – or even take a picture of it. For this reason, the test cars are usually flown to almost deserted areas such as northern Sweden. There they drive and drive and drive. Months and kilometers. A new Mercedes model travels more than three million kilometers before the engineers are sure that everything about it is right.

Last exit from the workshop

More than four years have passed since the engineers and designers first started thinking about the new A-Class. Everyone is satisfied, the test drives are successful. Photographers snap glossy photos for the big advertising campaign. The huge factory halls are given the finishing touches so that the new cars can roll off the production line there. And engineer Hans Engel gets behind the wheel of his new A-Class. “It drives exactly as we imagined it would.” In his mind, however, he is already thinking about the successor model. This will be launched on the market in 2018 at the earliest.

Future electric motor

A look at the history of the car shows that sometimes the time is not yet ripe for a good idea. If the two Britons William Ayrton and John Perry had succeeded with their invention in 1881, no one would be complaining about stinking exhaust fumes or high gasoline prices today. For even then, scientists presented a three-wheeled automobile powered by lead batteries.

The car drove 40 kilometers on one “power charge”. But charging the batteries was complicated and very time consuming. When a few years later then the internal combustion engines of Daimler, Benz and Co. came onto the market, the electric car fell into oblivion. Now that crude oil is becoming scarce, some car manufacturers are turning their attention back to power from the socket: Mercedes has now presented a new electric car at a car show. Maximum speed: 160 kilometers per hour!

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