The man behind the mask: BMW Group’s Thomas Nock on the Group’s vehicle camouflaging

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Keeping secrets is Thomas Nock’s speciality. As Head of Vehicle Camouflaging at the BMW Group, his job is to shield prototypes from prying eyes. Before a new product can take to the roads for testing, it has to be disguised.
Block 70, Research and Innovation Centre FIZ, Munich, lower ground floor. That’s the official address at which Thomas Nock works. But it’s not all that easy to enter – unless, of course, you are accompanied by the Head of Vehicle Camouflaging himself. Behind numerous locked heavy steel doors are the latest BMW Group prototypes for models that will go into production over the next few years. However, rather than sporting the classic painted bodywork, at this stage of the production process, they all look the same, clad in a layer of wrapping with white and yellow swirls on a black background.

A singular job

How these adhesive wrappings actually work is something Nock cannot reveal. However, the foil is there to give design details something to hide behind. Where the foil is not sufficient, hard plastic shells are used in addition, screwed directly onto the body using a cordless screwdriver. Nock’s task is to develop the right disguise for each BMW, MINI or Rolls-Royce product that reaches prototype maturity – and he’s the only person in the whole of the BMW Group to do so. He is supported by a small team consisting of one engineer and two workshop associates. So, what are the main tasks involved in his job? Communicating and organising. His cell phone rings constantly and given the wide range of models made by BMW, he has no trouble keeping busy.

“Sixty percent of the time I’m at my desk. The rest I spend clocking up mileage,” Nock explains. He does a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between his desk and the camouflage workshop next-door as well as travelling to the various sites around the world to fit camouflaging to the first prototype of each model. Given that the hard shells he uses are made in Munich, another part of his job consists of securing global supplies of these items. Nock also springs into action in emergencies, when a car has been damaged during testing and needs a new camouflage panel immediately, for instance.

When he’s at his desk, he designs camouflage concepts. This takes about four months to do per car. Which parts will be covered or not is decided by the Strategy and Secrecy Working Group at BMW, and Nock and his team come up with ideas for implementing their decision. But the job of rendering interior and exterior design characteristics invisible is not always easy – because from air conditioning to headlights, everything has to remain functional even though it’s under wraps. In the early stages, prototypes often run without head and tail lights. Instead they use special, disguised lights, Thomas Nock explains. “We have to make absolutely sure nothing falls off the car, be it at 250 km an hour, minus 35 or plus 60 degrees.” Sometimes Nock has to come up with creative solutions. For example, the folding steel roof of the Z4 needed concealing and the team ended up using an adhesive foil that looked like textile. But the use of truck tarpaulins is also not unknown!

Creativity required

Thomas Nock’s technical background is often a great advantage. “It means I can judge whether or not a camouflage is technically feasible,” he says. Although he is only 46, he has already been with BMW for 31 years – since the day his career began. He started off procuring milling devices and working in model construction before becoming the Head of Vehicle Camouflaging. However, in his private life, camouflage is an absolute taboo. Car fans in his circle of friends often try to wheedle the details of the latest innovations about to reach the market out of him. But Nock remains impervious. “I’ve not heard anything about that yet”, is his standard answer. That’s Thomas Nock, international man of mystery…

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