The birth of a concept truck: A labor of love

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Updated Sep 7, 2014

Exercises in truck design can be labor intensive, often spanning several years. But the timeframe can be adjusted depending on the company’s intentions for the vehicle.

 “Sometimes, (concept vehicle development) starts in conjunction with a production vehicle that we know we’re going to have to do or may have already been doing for a certain amount of time,” Brad Richards, exterior design manager for Ford Trucks, says. “We might take three years to go from a sketch to a production vehicle.”

Richards and his team were able to put Ford’s Atlas concept truck together much quicker, having already sketched redesigns for the F-150.

“The F-150 was very important, so we had a lot of lead time. We wanted to make sure we saw everyone’s ideas for what the truck should be,” he says, adding it took about a year to turn Atlas from an artist rendering into an actual truck.

RELATED: Click here to read more about the development of Ford’s Atlas concept and how it led to design changes on the F-150

“For the F-150, which we just designed, we had probably 30 to 40 sketches – 30 to 40 different designs (submitted from around the world),” he says noting it can take “months and months” to whittle the number of designs to something more manageable.

“The Atlas, we’re just making one of them,” Richards says. “Since (Altas) is a one-off vehicle, we don’t have to worry about getting into stamping and engineering…and all the other facets you would have to navigate through if you were developing a production truck.”

Carl Zipfel, GMC design manager, exteriors, says GM’s production program will sit in the design studio for at least a year. However, on a show vehicle, most of the design work is done up front in a couple of months. Zipfel’s All Terrain concept was spun into a redesign of the GMC Sierra HD

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“Then the whole darn vehicle gets built within a year instead of a couple years for a production vehicle to come to fruition,” he says. “One month you’re doing a sketch and then six, seven months later you’re looking at the fiberglass parts in the raw state…That’s really cool.”

Chris Ito, director of innovation and design for Navistar, says concepts that are not tied to production models are often much easier to pull together since artists have more freedom to color outside the lines.

“If you start from scratch, it actually is easier because you don’t have any parameters,” Ito says of Navistar’s Project Horizon ProStar that updated everything from the production model with the exception of the sleeper sidewalls and the roof. “But, we’re going to have parameters no matter what. It would be quicker if we work around a ProStar or DuraStar or whatever, because we already have the knowns…from the overall big picture, to go to concept to production is much faster.”

“Production vehicles are more of a challenge,” Zipfel says, “just because there are more constraints, like safety tests, regulations…things we have to put every one of our production vehicles through. (With) concept vehicles, you can have a little more unrestrained creative fun.”

The process of going from an artist rendering of Freightliner’s Revolution truck to having a tangible product took a year and a half, but Maik Ziegler, Daimler Trucks’ director of advanced engineering, NAFTA, says that timeframe can vary from project to project.

“With SuperTruck, we have a target of 50 percent improvement of freight efficiency (over 2007 baselines),” he says. “Fifty percent is a big number, so the government gave us five years.”