May 21, 2015
Rüsselsheim. It is a never ending contest: the battle between carmakers and the spy photographers. The one side will do anything in its power to hide their newest creations from the outside world for as long as possible, whereas the other side develops increasingly creative techniques to get a shot of their motorized prey and to get the first photograph of a prototype. For 30 years, Opel has been developing new camouflage foils and artificial add-on components to lead the automotive paparazzi astray. The latest coup of the cover-up team is, amongst others, being used for the new Opel Astra: The black and white ‘Cube’ camouflage foil. Opel hopes to keep the design and the interior of the newly-developed Astra a secret until the first photographs are released in the upcoming weeks. The Astra will be on show in all its beauty for the first time and celebrate its world premiere at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt in September.
The experts have paid special attention to protecting the newly designed fascia, the grille with the distinctive Opel Blitz and the rear from curious eyes. If camouflage expert Andreas Kubis had his way, the new Astra would be covered up completely. However, Astra prototypes can only be distorted to a degree that still allows engineers and test drivers to deliver realistic results for the following production vehicle. And obviously a TÜV safety inspector has to clear the camouflaged vehicle before it is allowed to take to the road. That makes certain things easier for Kubis to accept, the lights for example. “The turn indicators have to be visible from the side,” explains Kubis. Nonetheless, ideally the precise contour of the lights should remain hidden as it is one of the recognition factors and characteristic for every Opel.
Kubis, a certified technical manager, has successfully being trying to stay a step ahead of spy photographers since 2012. The 3D effects of ‘Cube’, already frustrating preying eyes during the development phase of the Corsa, only indicate the contours of the new Astra, make them become blurred and confuse onlookers. Between 60 and 70 sheets of foil are required to completely cover up a compact class car like the new Opel Astra. It is stone chip, temperature and UV-resistant. Temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees to plus 80 degrees Celsius are not a problem. After all, the test drivers in Arjeplog in northern Sweden need to rely on the camouflage in the most adverse weather conditions.
For the first time ever, the experts used an additional special privacy foil for the instruments, center console and infotainment system of the band new Astra prototype. “The material is well-known from laptops and mobile phones. It prevents the contents of the screen being visible from the side,” explains Kubis. Plastic enclosures and foam flesh simulate the shape of the instruments, whereas the privacy foil can even take on the most powerful zoom lenses.
‘Cube’ is already the fourth generation of camouflage foil used by Opel. “Looking back, it is plain to see how colleagues adapted current trends in body construction and turned them into a match camouflage philosophy,” describes Kubis. At the beginning, it was only about covering the rough edges and concealing the headlights behind yellow and red tape. The demands on camouflaging grew continuously as camera technology improved. At the end of the 1980s, camouflaging reached a new level with the front and rear ends also disappearing under tape. “Even the windows were partially covered to obscure characteristic window lines,” says Kubis. The first Opel camouflage foil, with fish-shaped hashes called ‘Fishies’, was used on the Corsa C in 1999. A team of up to three people needed several days to apply the foil to the car back then. Gradually, the camouflage experts padded the foil with plastic and foam components, distorting the vehicle completely. The ‘Flimmies’ pattern, used amongst others for the Astra in 2009, saw the time required to cover a car shrink to two days per vehicle. But each check had to be applied individually and painstakingly removed later. Screen printing technology used for the third-generation ‘Wirries’, used from 2011 to 2013, saved the experts up to a day of work. The foil could be applied in one piece and removed if required.
Opel has been camouflaging the interior of its new cars since 2008 and obviously there has been developments in this sector too. In the past, hand-stitched artificial leather covers with Velcro were used to cover the instrument panel and the dashboard. These days the experts rely on a much lighter mesh fabric known from backpacks which allows for the individual components to be covered separately. Air vents, the handbrake and other important buttons such as the hazard light button need to remain uncovered when on the road. A special lamination seals up the rear and side windows while at the same time allowing the driver to see out. To this day, test drivers and engineers follow a simple rule, especially when parking the car: cover up the instruments and protect the interior from preying eyes.
When looking to the animal kingdom it becomes apparent that camouflage is good, but a trick can be (even) better. The new ADAM S with its eye-catching wheels and the distinctive spoiler posed a real challenge for Kubis and his team. “We didn’t want to make the first prototype even more attention-grabbing. That is why we didn’t camouflage the ADAM S. Instead, we make it look like a training car,” says Kubis. The lettering ‘Driver training’ and some sporty black and yellow stripes did the trick and the paparazzi lost interest. The battle was won – at least until the next round.
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