Previously, the chairman of the board would have a randomly chosen car from the production, placed at his disposal every evening. In the meantime probably only the development director does this. No. not for driving home with. He takes a plane and maybe meets with his development-team on the other side of the world.
There, as a rule, no recently finished cars are tested, rather the prototypes. These are top-secret cars which, basically, no-one is allowed to see. However, because the location of the manufacturers testing grounds are well known, they are crawling with curious journalists, who are keen to take pictures of exactly these cars.
Obviously the sale of these pictures is a lucrative business, which more than pays for the long trips and the effort needed to get them. The manufacturers protect themselves by sending observation cars out onto the tracks or by cleverly 'decorating' the prototypes. Basically, it's a game of cat-and-mouse.
Nonetheless, even today, it can take up to two years before a car appears in full detail on the market. Thus, if the results of these tests lead to radical changes, they must be made beforehand. Hardly any buyer would be prepared to wait that long. Thus, the buyer only gets to know about a new product somewhat later.
One could think that the industry doesn't need outdoor testing at all any more. Indeed, the number of testing-stations is persistently increasing. If previously, one was particularly happy to have a wind-tunnel, nowadays, this must be able to simulate all sorts of weather conditions. A suspension test-bench in the meantime, has any number of stretches of road and road conditions stored in it's memory. The anechoic (echo-free) area makes any sort of sound measurement possible.
Nonetheless, despite all the simulation data, the roads are still the no.1 testing grounds. Whereby 'roads' is a little premature. If in the past it was only the direct north and south, e.g., northern Scandinavia and the African desert. Nowadays, e.g., they go as far as Utah in western America and China in the east. Apparently there they find the respective conditions and roads that are not found in Europe.
Even the tailbacks in the Japanese capital Tokyo, seem to be so unique that despite the danger to their secrecy policy, one simply has to go through them before the production release. Indeed, perhaps the prototype-hunters can't imagine their victims to be found here and can't adjust themselves to the situation, let alone get a good picture of one.
For some time now, the emphasis is no longer only on the well-being of the mechanical soundness. The passengers are now placed in the foreground. E.g., an air-conditioner must apparently, guarantee an interior temperature of 20°C, under almost any climatic conditions. The result is that the systems become more and more efficient. In Death Valley in the USA, one of the hottest spots on earth, one can read that the air-con., is please to be switched off, otherwise there is the threat of mechanical damage.
Give a thought to what the test-drivers have to go through as well. Hardly any inexperienced bus company would dare to attempt the passes of the Himalayas or they would at least, use drivers who are familiar with the stretches. This is hardly imaginable for a team with a test-car. There are, in the meantime, so many testing grounds in the world, that some manufacturers even advertise the many millions of kilometers that the new product, in it's testing phase, had been driven.
If there are still any 'experts' around, who maintain that earlier the cars were better, then they should slowly begin to think again, at the latest, ever since the testing methods have become more and more extensive and are applied to more and more parts of the car. In the past, no-one would have been interested to know whether a strip of trimming could remain in position after being exposed to the bone shaking, corrugated roads in China. 09/12