The objective of this paper is to present one of the application of the finite element method (FEM) in early stages of vehicle development to calculate larger deflections of body sheet panel. The stiffness of sheet metal shells is defined in conjunction with the local elastic buckling instability under concentrated loads. Considerable amount of weight reduction of outer panels could be obtained by optimizing metal gauges, radii, peripheral conditions and reinforcing manner of the panel. Among several outer panels of an automobile, a roof panel is picked up as an example and its stiffness is calculated by FEM analysis. The results shows satisfactory coincidence with the experimental ones. Regarding the calculation procedure, Central Processor Unit (CPU) time of finite elements was found to be reduced by varying and optimizing supporting conditions of the panel. Furthermore, the stiffness analysis program during the initial design stages of vehicle development is described.