We car enthusiasts are often an underappreciative bunch. It's all too easy to take for granted the stunning designs and lust-inducing lines of a great concept, assuming some designer sketched it up in a handful inspired of minutes, sent it to modeling, and then had a computer put it together. This look behind the scenes of Audi's process with the e-tron Spyder Concept puts the effort into context.
To be fair, computers are heavily involved in the process, even sculpting the plasticine model once a design is chosen. But the iterative process involves huge amounts of human evaluation and effort, comparing slight variations on a theme until the look is nailed.
As Audi designer Frank Lamberty puts it, "We were constantly bouncing between two worlds like a ping-pong ball. On the one side was the elegant shape of speedboats. On the other was the radical world of naked bikes (motorcycles without full or partial fairings) or roadsters from the 1960s and 1970s. The Audi e-tron Spyder is the result of this inspiring convergence process and unites these two worlds."
But the clay-carving process isn't the beginning; it's actually rather near the end. The whole thing started with 17 designers faced off to see whose take on the e-tron Spyder would be chosen as the concept design. From there it was pared down to four teams, which each got another two weeks to work on their ideas. The next step cuts it to just the final two designs, each built as a 3D data model. Finally, the winning design is chosen and work on the concept begins in earnest.
Under lock and key, the teams work in secret, guarding the design of the concept closely. The job is to fit the final design to the underlying hardware designed by the Technical Development team. In designing the e-tron Spyder, the team had to deal with 10 "hard points"--physical specifications that couldn't be altered for the chassis to fit under the skin.
From there it's a process of negotiation and mediation, the design side not wanting to sacrifice appearance to physical constraints, the technical side requiring a body that will properly fit the running gear.
For the full process, rendered in incredible detail, read the official Audi release on page two.