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Why Are Some New Cars Shown With Swirly Black-and-White Patterns?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

Hello, and welcome to the latest round of Ask Doug, everyone's favorite Oversteer piece, wherein you write to me, Doug, and ask a question, and then I, Doug, answer your question, often with a rambling, unrelated diatribe.

If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just email me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, or write me a note on my Facebook page. Either way, I'll be very excited to hear from you, unless of course your question is stupid.

Anyway, today's question comes to us from a reader named Mike, who has insisted that I not give him "some weird-sounding nickname" if I publish his question. As a result, I've decided to nickname him Elvis. Elvis writes:

Dear Doug,

Why are some new cars shown (like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan) shown with a black-and-white swirl pattern instead of another paint job? When and how has this become the go-to pattern for concept cars during the early stages of reveal?

- Mike

P.s.: Don't give me some weird-sounding nickname if you publish this question.

Well, Elvis, this is an excellent question, and I believe it deserves an excellent answer. Unfortunately, the only answer you'll be getting is one from me. And the answer is: because automakers who do this really don't want you to know what their vehicles look like.

Allow me to explain the situation. Many years ago, car companies would drive around in "test-mule" vehicles with enormous black bags on all the panels that looked like they were made of mesh or nylon. This was ridiculous, of course, but it got the job done. Nobody had any idea what these cars looked like when they were still in development stages, which meant that automakers were able to release official designs on their own timeline.

But driving around in cars covered with giant bags is kind of stupid, and I imagine it led to some problems. For instance, it's hard to measure the on-road aerodynamics of a vehicle when it's covered in black bags. And the bags always seemed to cover up important components, such as taillights, headlights or other things you'd normally need in order to operate an automobile. And thus, the black swirly design was born.

For those of you who don't know what swirly black thing Elvis is talking about, scroll up to the image above, and you'll see it, right next to my brilliant Ask Doug graphic: the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, a majestic, beautiful, powerful luxury vehicle, wrapped in a pattern so grotesque that its only other application would probably be in some enormous new home in Florida.

So why do they use this pattern?

Simple: When a car that's still under development is spied on the roads, it's bad news for the automakers, as it suggests to the public that it's better to wait for this cool new model than purchase one today. So car companies want to disguise their vehicles as much as possible, and this pattern provides an excellent disguise.

Just look at it! Although it wraps snugly around the body, this bizarre entanglement of shapes and patterns makes it almost impossible to figure out exactly where the lines of this vehicle are. The most you can really hope for, when this sort of pattern is stuck to a vehicle, is a general look at the overall profile. Otherwise, you're still sort of guessing where all the lines are, where the curves are and exactly what will be going where.

And so, Elvis, this is why automakers use this bizarre pattern: It's a disguise. The automaker knows it's likely that somewhere, some member of the press will likely see this vehicle before the automaker is ready to release official images -- but they don't want you to see it covered in dirt, hooked up to testing supplies. Rolls-Royce, for instance, wants your first image of the Cullinan to be on some windswept trail, where they've decided to show it to you, rather than in hot-weather testing with instruments hooked up to the rear wheels. And by driving around with this pattern, they know you won't get to see what you really want until they're ready to show it to you.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Why Are Some New Cars Shown With Swirly Black-and-White Patterns? - Autotrader