Gaffoglio Family Metalcrafters Inc. of Fountain Valley, Calif., doesn't have a lock on the market for building concept cars. Other major players include Venture Industries, Roush Industries, ASC, Special Projects, RM Corp., McLaren Performance Technologies and several smaller firms, such as Rod Millen Motorsports, that are sought because of their expertise in a specific area.
These companies often work together on a project. For example, Metalcrafters is not in the powertrain business. So it works with automakers or other suppliers to integrate
drivetrains into its concept vehicles.
Says Bill Kessler, CEO of RM Corp. in Wixom, Mich."Metalcrafters and our company are not really competitors. We do things they don't do, and they do things we don't do. Our expertise is in drivetrain and steering and performance."
Kessler said that when Ford Motor Co. wanted its EX extreme off-road concept, unveiled at the 2001 Detroit auto show, to be more than a show-stand model - to be capable of actually being driven in extreme off-road environments - it turned to RM.
"The Ford EX is not only a show car, but it also had to be a go car," Kessler says. Sometimes executing a concept car's construction brings new skills to a company. For example, Roush Industries supplied engineering expertise to Detroit automakers and had an extensive motorsports program when it began preparing Ford Mustang pace cars for the 1979 Indianapolis 500. The next year, PPG hired Roush Industries to build a fleet of pace cars for Championship Auto Racing Teams.
"That's how we first got the chance to do some body elements, to get those skill sets," said Roush CEO Evan Lyall. Since then, Roush Industries says it has had a hand in the construction of more than 100 concept vehicles, and it has launched a line of high-performance Roush Mustangs.
McLaren, of Livonia, Mich., also developed body-building skills when Ford asked it to help prepare a special Mustang prototype, the SR500.
One of Special Projects' skills is short turnaround times. Metalcrafters prefers 18 to 24 weeks to build a concept vehicle. Special Projects, of Plymouth, Mich., coordinated seven-week programs that produced the (my) Mercury concept late in 1998 and a pair of show-stopping Pontiac Solstice concepts for this year's Detroit auto show. "We're a low-key, secret shop," says Special Projects owner Ken Yanez, who worked as a teen-ager for Detroit custom car builders Alexander Brothers, then at other shops before opening his own business nearly 20 years ago.
Says Yanez, whose company has done several Ford and General Motors concepts, "We always say our secret to success was that we were stupid enough to keep going."