The birth of a concept truck: Taking & evaluating risks

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Like their light truck counterparts, commercial truck makers such as Freightliner use concept trucks as a function test for ideas “that weren’t quite ready for prime time,” says TJ Reed, director of product strategy for Daimler Trucks North America. Most recently, Freightliner used its Revolution concept truck to test features that were later moved into the Cascadia Evolution.

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Not coincidentally, many of the body forms created for Freightliner’s earlier generation concept – the Innovation truck – were rolled forward into the development of Revolution, including an internal antenna and utilizing cameras as mirrors.

Last year, Navistar debuted its Project HorizonLast year, Navistar debuted its Project Horizon

Last year, Navistar debuted its Project Horizon – a truck Chris Ito, director of innovation and design for Navistar, says was designed to make an “aerodynamic statement.”

As with both Freightliner and Ford, Ito says Navistar used journalist and driver feedback to gauge what cosmetic concepts were working and which were falling flat.

“It’s a litmus test as ‘this is our vision,’” he says. “And it kind of validates if we’re going in the right direction or not.”

“There is a lot of value in customer feedback,” Ito adds. “We have a lot of smart people here at Navistar but we need to make sure that we validate with people who will actually use the product.”

“We definitely use a concept vehicle as a test to try out new colors, new finishes (and) new interior finishes,” says GMC design manager, exteriors, Carl Zipfel, whose All Terrain concept was spun into a redesign of the GMC Sierra HD.

“A lot of times, with the amount of energy and money we spend on a concept vehicle, we’re certainly looking to not only learn from it, but integrate some of the solutions into production vehicles.”

“(Manufacturers) realize how a concept vehicle can make your (production) project successful,” Brad Richards, exterior design manager for Ford Trucks, says. 

Designing for the future

Not all concept trucks serve as the godfather of a production vehicle.

Ford discontinued its Bronco SUV in the mid-90s, but with some input from Richards, Ford introduced a Bronco concept in 2004 that sent Internet message boards into a tailspin over its potential return.

Yet here we sit 10 years later, still sans a production-model Bronco.

“The Bronco has a very strong legacy, but the fact that it wasn’t out there – that we were exploring the idea of ‘What would the new Bronco look like?’ – that gave us a little bit more (design) freedom. It was a design exercise that was pretty fun.”

Ito says the Project Horizon, even though it was based on an International ProStar, was created to showcase some of the emerging technologies at Navistar’s disposal.

“Project Horizon wasn’t just a styling exercise,” Ito says. “It was created as a vehicle that would showcase technologies. It was a full overall technology showcase. There are some elements on the vehicle that may or may not go into production, but could influence future shapes of the product,” he says.

Among the most striking features on the ultra-aero International ProStar are chassis skirts that fully cover the drag wheels.

“Actually (that) is functionally efficient, but we understand in production there are some practical aspects that have some shortcomings,” Ito says. “There are some major shapes on (the Horizon truck) that could shape some future vehicles.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: “The birth of a concept truck” is a multi-part series that will publish throughout the month of July that looks in detail at the thought and design processes that go into the development of a concept vehicle. To read part one, covering mostly the Ford Atlas and next generation F-150, click here