If you follow the motoring news in any way you will regularly see headlines about spy shots and cars being seen during testing. These headlines may not seem very interesting but this murky world of petrol paparazzi is a great way to keep up to date with new models launching, especially if you might be in the market for a new car.
To make sure a car actually works in the real world manufacturers have to allow it to be used on real roads. This presents a big problem because if they happen to drive a brand new car that is not even launched yet on public roads, people will see. The press and certain people from other car makers are very keen on seeing what a brand is up to next so during these road tests manufacturers use various camouflage techniques to keep the cars eventual shape and details secret. The disguises normally include black and white paint jobs created from chess board patterns or similar. These patterns were originally called dazzle camouflage and used during WW2 to make boats harder to see and do work very well. Other techniques include using cloth or padding suspended over rear windows, bonnets and bumpers to cover some of the lines and curves on the car, often these areas are key styling elements and need to be kept literally under wraps.
Once the car is well covered up it gets sent out into the wide world and is used in all sorts of testing. This can simply involve being driven around for weeks like a normal car or it might involve being driven to a test track and pushed to its limits. Whatever the test is, you can bet the motoring press will be watching as well as competing car makers. There are people who will wait outside factories and test facilities with cameras just to try and get a glimpse of a new model undergoing a shake down. These pictures can be worth a lot of money and can certainly make a magazine editor very happy.
The cars get “snapped” and before the driver was probably even aware they have been e mailed and published on websites and social media. The trick is to then work out what car it actually is, and piece together as much detail about the model as possible. Often the journalist will have got a quote about a new car some months before from a contact in the company and this will give a strong clue as to what the car is.
Papped or PR?
Of course, there is certainly a lot of positive PR that can come out of a spy shot being published on a big website. Yes, it is risky in terms of competitors seeing a half finished car, but the coverage is often worth it. It may be a cynical view but most of the time these cars are well into development and could be launched in a matter of months, no competitor is going to be able to copy the car fast enough to do any damage. The fact that the cars are well disguised does keep the world guessing but it also clearly shows the car in undergoing testing and could actually make it more obvious to photographers.
The run up to the Frankfurt motor show has seen a big increase in the number of spy shots released, some are barley hidden examples of new models that are about to go on show next month. There has been the new Vauxhall Astra, the Jaguar F-Pace, a new Peugeot 3008 and many many more. All of these cars on about to be launched so it certainly makes sense to get some early press.
What ever the situation when a test car gets snapped, it is a positive thing for customers. It shows what is just around the corner and gives the potential buyer more choice, even if some of the finer details are missing. The other great thing is that a spy shot can mean a current model maybe coming to an end. For the sensible buyer this may be the time to go to your local dealership and see what offers might be on the horizon for the outgoing model, just because something is being replaced does not mean it is not brilliant and buying one could still be the best option.