Hi guys. I work as a concept artist in an independent car design studio, one of "The guys who draw up the concepts" as choppas posted. I registered here today after years of lurking, because this post caught my attention.
The way automotive designs work is that someone (usually the client) comes to the studio with an idea. They have a rough idea for a new vehicle, but can't picture it complete in their head. They sit down with a concept artist and he or she makes notes of what the client needs. The artist is trained to ask certain questions so the general form or shape of the vehicle can be roughed out on paper, paying particular attention to the design elements that inspired the client in the first place.
Then the questions are expanded to ask about key parts like lights, grilles and other "character" elements. Yes, cars and other vehicles all have character. Next are questions about the vehicle interior and trunk.
At that point the client leaves and the artist then translates the sketches into digital drawings, which get sent to the other artists computers so we can work together. The rest of the team (which is usually small, as large teams take longer to agree on stuff) comes along and adds their expert input. Some of these guys are engineers who will point out issues, FI like:
"That radiator grille is too small to cool the radiator"
"Those tires are too narrow to support the weight"
"The wheel arches need to flare out more for the wheels to clear them on the up travel"
The engineers have to balance out the clients needs with practical and real world concerns.
You probably get the general idea. Eventually the drawings go to the client and we wait for his feedback. Some clients prefer to visit us as they don't trust email, even encrypted.
He or she will get back to us and suggest changes. Once the changes are agreed, the real work starts. More detailed drawings are made, properly colored and shaded. The design team artists split into a team for the exterior design, and one for the interior. More drawings are given to the client. Once the drawings are up to par, the next and hardest part of the job starts. Which is making a CG model
We then pass the artwork to the CG guys and girls. Their work is harder and takes longer to do. Don't let anyone kid you that CG is easy, it isn't. Their brief is to come up with a model to clients specifications, and to make it look real in various digital environments (city, desert etc.). They block out the general exterior shape of the vehicle as a kind of digital clay model, and we give it as a 360% flash file to the client. Once the clients changes are done to satisfaction, the interior of the vehicle is started by the CG team. All this takes time, from a few weeks to several months. The finished vehicle will be dropped into various backplates so the client can see how it looks in real-world environments.
I hope that gives some idea of what is involved in vehicle design.