Design

Why do automakers camouflage vehicles to hide them from us?

Ahead of its reveal, the 2022 Nissan Qashqai was spied testing wearing camouflage.

Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

You've seen the wrapped vehicles in spy photos. If you live in California, Arizona, or Michigan, you've also likely seen them on the streets. Automakers use camouflage wrap on their prototypes, mules, and modified models.

In just under a year, Nissan's test engineering team has gone through over two miles of the adhesive camouflage as they work to conceal the company's vehicles that are in development. The automaker recently announced that a large number of models are in the process of making their way to U.S. shores by 2022. That includes the recently arrived Nissan Rogue, Kicks, and Armada, and the Frontier and Pathfinder, which are arriving this summer.

Why camouflage? It helps keep company secrets. Camo can hide body design elements that may foretell a specific type of engine, exhaust, or drivetrain, and hide sheet metal design that isn't in its final form yet. While a trained eye can figure out many of the hidden secrets, the camouflage helps the company make a marketing splash with the greater public when the market-ready model debuts.

Nissan Pathfinder camo The Nissan Pathfinder was heavily disguised ahead of its debut.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan Pathfinder camouflage

"When we reveal a vehicle, it should be a very momentous occasion," explains Mike Rosinski, a vehicle development manager at Nissan North America. "However, before a vehicle is launched, we have months of work where we put the vehicle on actual roads for testing. In order to not take away from the excitement of the reveal, we have to keep the cars always in disguise and under wraps."

Prying eyes are always interested in vehicle testing. Automakers use the camo as well as garage lockup, transportation in encolested trailers, and testing in remote locations away from the general population in order to avoid their secrets getting out. Most companies own testing centers in multiple states, which allows them to control access to the products while they're being engineered. It can take the better part of a decade to develop a new product.

"Spy photographers will literally camp outside our testing centers," Rosinski says. "Sometimes, they even hide in the bushes. If spy photos get out, they can give our competitors a real advantage."

Michael Alcantar applying camo to the interior of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

One of the most important elements of the camo is its pattern. Distinct black and white patterns are developed specifically to make it hard for a camera lens to focus. Nissan deploys a range of camo patterns and randomly assigns them.

"The patterns are key," says Sherri Bruder, manager, Engineering Fleet, Nissan North America. "If the material was just black or white or beige, you could see the body lines of the vehicle. The patterns make it tougher to see those body lines."

Covering the vehicle in camo isn't always good enough. Companies often take measures to conceal specific elements by painting them black, hiding interior instrument panels, removing automaker badges, and adding tape around the headlights, which helps to hide their new shape. A layer of padding or an extra structure taped on the back of the vehicle can further disguise it.

To conceal the Pathfinder's new grille, Nissan technicians added materials underneath the camo to greatly distort its appearance.

"Truly we have become masters in wrapping our 'presents' for the future," says Bruder of her department. "Our team has a sense of pride knowing what we're doing is very important. The process starts with us to make sure that we provide a wow-factor for all of the eyes that are watching for what's next at Nissan."

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The Nissan GT-R probably isn't the first supercar that comes to mind, but it's worthy of consideration if you're not all about being seen.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

You put the pedal down. A confident growl busts out the back end. The wheels may squeal, and you might too. It's not all about the power, though it has plenty. The 2021 Nissan GT-R delivers the type of drive experience that you're never going to get from an electric vehicle - and it's magnificent.

Godzilla has been in production since 2007 with nips and tucks and add-ons here and there along the way. It's not as sleek or stylish as the Audi E-Tron GT or even Audi's R8. There's no giant wing out back à la McLaren and certainly nothing Italian about it. The GT-R is it's own man.

Even areas of the country that are supercar-heavy, aren't heavy with GT-Rs. A Ferrari or Lamborghini is a bigger status symbol for adoring eyes. It's the real drivers out there who know that a GT-R is perhaps the better investment for someone who wants a supercar to drive, not just to be seen in. Its unique looks are subtle but properly athletic.

2021 Nissan GT-R Premium The car is capable as a daily driver but it can also push the limits during a track day.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

2021 Nissan GT-R Premium

The reason for that starts but doesn't end with Nissan's 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6. It rests below the hood, not behind your ears, and delivers 565 horsepower and 467 pound-feet of torque creating a visceral acceleration experience. It's enough to satisfy you, bring a smile to your face, impress those around you, and make you realize that Godzilla really is a beast.

The six-speed dual-clutch transmission in the GT-R Premium ($113,540 base price) manages the power nicely and shifts relatively smoothly - it's no Ford 10-speed automatic and that's okay. If you want a GT-R with a manual transmission, you'll have to upgrade to the NISMO model. Don't "save the manuals" me. So few people are buying them that they're becoming extinct despite your bumper sticker saying and hashtag. Most supercars don't have them. Nissan is just simply following an industry trend and the DCT is perfectly fine for drivers not spending the majority of their time on a track.

All wheel drive is standard on the model, meaning that the GT-R sticks to the road as you put it through its paces. That also means that you don't need to head home every time there's rainfall or snow in the forecast, and you can take corners a little faster than the local constabulary may prefer.

The car has athletic looks despite not conforming to the typical supercar design language.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

2021 Nissan GT-R Premium

Proper engineering has made the GT-R a great daily driver. It's fun to push it around the twisties on a winding road in the country during a long weekend, but it's also not a bad car to commute or run errands in (it has a real trunk!). Like any good supercar, the GT-R goes right where you want, when you want it, whether you're doing slow speed maneuvering around a neighborhood or putting the throttle down on the highway. The speed-sensitive steering calibration is spot-on.

Parts of the interior are dated, especially when compared to other vehicles in its price point. But none of those parts are enough to make the GT-R even the least bit undesirable. The seats are surprisingly comfortable and the ride isn't too harsh. Analog dials are a nice break for the eyes.

But the real reason you're in the GT-R isn't because of the the amenities. It's because you love to drive. Because you're confident enough to go with Godzilla rather than a flashy Italian or German. Because you understand that the car nicknamed after a fictional monster, and its gasoline-powered ilk, are in danger of going extinct as carbon neutral priorities seem keen on removing the type of visceral fun that internal combustion engines provide.

The car has analog dials in front of the driver.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

If we're going to have to make concessions to make the air and water cleaner, it would be nice if, on the other end of the spectrum, the powers that be let us keep having the muscle of the GT-R.

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The Nissan Ariya has wind glide over it in the testing tunnel.

Photo courtesy of Nisan Motor Company

Nissan is targeting a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.297 for the Ariya all-electric crossover. If it can make that number, it will be the company's most aerodynamic crossover to date. What does that mean? Let's take a closer look.

What is drag?

Simply put, drag is an aerodynamic force. It's mechanical in nature, so it is the result of the interaction of a solid body and a liquid. In the case of a car, this liquid is air. (Yes, air is a liquid.) It only occurs when one part of the equation (the solid body or the liquid) is in motion. If there is no motion, there is no drag.

Drag only occurs in the opposite direction of the object's movement. Think of a car cutting through the air as it drives down a north-south road. As the car heads north, the air it passes through is pushed south. The car is in motion; there is drag.

2022 Nissan Ariya

Photo courtesy of Nisan Motor Company

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What is coefficient of drag?

The coefficient of drag, also called a drag coefficient, is a number that aerodynamics professions (aerodynamicists) use to determine the shape, inclination, and flow conditions on a vehicle's drag. The shape of an object (bullet vs. square vs prism, etc.) has a large impact on the amount of drag created by airflow surrounding a vehicle. Objects with narrower front ends tend to have a lower coefficient.

Scientists and vehicle designers want to keep air moving around the car for maximum efficiency. The inclination of the airflow to either move in a smooth, connected pattern, or to be broken up with air sitting, stalling in one particular part of the vehicle, lessening airflow and making the vehicle less aerodynamic.

A vehicle's Cd is determined by plugging various measurements into an equation. Cd is equal to drag (D) divided by the quantity of density (r) multiplied by half the velocity (V) squared multiple by the reference area (A). As an equation, it looks like this: Cd = D / (A * .5 * r * V^2).

The smaller the Cd, the more aerodynamic a vehicle is.

2022 Nissan Ariya

The Nissan Ariya employs aerodynamic wheel design, made to help it cut though the air with greater ease.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

What is the coefficient of drag of the Nissan Ariya?

"With the growing shift towards electric mobility, aerodynamic testing is becoming increasingly important. The aerodynamics of electric vehicles are directly linked to how efficiently the vehicle moves – less drag and better stability allows the customer to drive longer distances before having to recharge," said Sarwar Ahmed, Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics Engineer at Nissan Technical Centre Europe.

Nissan is targeting a 0.297 coefficient of drag for the Ariya. How will it achieve that number? By utilizing precisely shaped body lines and strategically placed air ducts, among other components. There's a bonus to better aerodynamics when it comes to EVs.

"Following official homologation of the Nissan Ariya later this year, we anticipate the range to improve compared to the 310 mile figure shared in 2020 during the World Premiere. This will give drivers more efficiency and confidence to go even further on a single charge," said Marco Fioravanti, VP Product Planning, Nissan Europe.

How does the Ariya's coefficient of drag compare to other Nissans?

The newest Nissans, the Kicks, Pathfinder, and Frontier, don't have their Cd publicly available yet, but other models have their results. The targeted 0.297 Cd in the Ariya is less than that in the 2021 Armada, Murano, and Rogue. But, it's higher than the Nissan Leaf.

The fact that it's higher than the Leaf is not surprising. Shorter cars tend to be more aerodynamic because they sit lower to the ground and have a smaller profile. That also explains why Nissan's largest and boxiest SUV, the Armada, has the highest number on the list.

How does the Ariya's coefficient of drag compare to numbers from other EVs?

The Nissan Ariya's coefficient of drag is higher than that of most other electric cars, crossovers, and SUVs sold in the U.S. Here's where the others measure up:

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