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Grueling Ford Test Track Simulates Real World Conditions

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author photo by Autotrader April 2011

With sixteen models, Ford engineers likely don’t get much of a break between developing new products. Years of research, engineering, and testing go into every new model, from the original concept to the first deliveries. But one part is particularly grueling: Ford’s extreme road testing.

According to Ford, it carries out these tests at two facilities worldwide: one in Belgium, and the other in Michigan. The tracks are built with every conceivable road hazard in mind, from cobblestones to potholes. They even simulate rough roads often found in emerging markets – and the potential for such roads to get rougher in inclement weather. In many cases, the tracks provide the worst roads anywhere.

“We have created some of the worst potholes in Europe on our own test track,” said Eric-Jan Scharlee, technical specialist for durability proving ground at Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium. “You name the road surface, we have it at our proving ground.”

He’s not kidding. To create appropriate road surfaces, Ford engineers surveyed drivers worldwide to get a realistic profile of how vehicles are used, asking them to rate local roads and provide driving habits. Then, Ford went to work building those responses into its test track. Signs at the proving grounds indicate testers have entered the United States, the United Kingdom and France, all within one mile – but really, they’re just sampling those countries’ roads.

“We use two types of test tracks at Ford to recreate the loads customers are seeing on public roads,” said Scharlee. “One type simulates actual public roads… while the other comprises a variety of potholes that have artificially been constructed to mimic different driving conditions.”

Utilizing the two types of surfaces, Ford tests not only ride comfort for occupants but whether suspension components are capable of handling grueling bumps and potholes – and no car is produced until it passes the Blue Oval’s tests.

“We use specially instrumented wheels on the car that measure the force and corresponding moments in three directions,” said Simon Mooney, test engineer for road load data at Dunton Technical Center in Essex, U.K., who notes that advanced systems can measure up to 200 data points at once. “We test all the wheel and tire sizes that we produce for our vehicles to their limit, so we’re confident they can cope.”

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Grueling Ford Test Track Simulates Real World Conditions - Autotrader