Given that the clinic test takes place three years before the start of sales of a vehicle – i.e., almost halfway through its five-year development – there is usually only one prototype available for all of the company’s requirements. The availability of this scarce resource therefore dictates the scheduling of clinic tests, which must find their place in a general schedule covering the needs of the entire company. The Customer Intelligence Department recently doubled (and, in some cases, tripled) the number of countries included in each clinic test in order to gather a wider variety of responses. The entire process must therefore run like a well-oiled machine. Presenting the same vehicle in multiple countries at the same time is impossible; each prototype must be transported in a safe and confidential manner from one test site to another. Each prototype is treated like a handmade and priceless individual part. Once on site, the vehicle must be presented in the best conditions while being protected from any risk of damage; again, there is no room for error.
Céline points out, “we have to show the new car alongside others, as if it were in a showroom. Participants must be able to realise the prototype’s proportions and get to grips with its characteristics, with realistic and familiar points of reference, so they can get an accurate first impression.”
Together, in another room, the project team can listen in on the participants’ reactions. This always leads to interesting and passionate discussions. The tension and excitement arising from this initial reveal always spurs productive conversations. If participants take too long to understand the concept or react unexpectedly, the tension is palpable – but there’s a great sigh of relief if the first signs are positive. Each piece of feedback is likely to provoke heated reactions and spontaneous debates between the members of the project team. No clinic test goes by without comments like, “I told you that wouldn’t work,” or, “you see, we were right to believe in that and insist on it!” Participants often make odd remarks, creating moments of comedy that bring the whole project team together for a well-deserved laugh. Indeed, each employee experiences the clinic test as though the viability of the entire project depends on it – which is why they put so much into this intense event.