Despite increased government expenditures in England to fix the country's potholes, Ford is eager to prove it still rigorously tests its cars for their ability to withstand big pavement gaps. According to Ford, its cars go through thousands of miles of tests across two proving grounds to make sure they won't sustain damage when presented with uneven surfaces.
The Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium goes as far as to include an inch-by-inch recreation of a notoriously porous English road. More abusive road surfaces are simulated at Ford's Dunton Proving Ground in Essex, England. Ford says that between the two test facilities, it tests every wheel and tire combination sold on its entire European vehicle portfolio.
The budget for this sort of testing is huge, as each test car is strapped with around $2.5 million worth of electronic gadgetry designed to register and record the effect of each pothole strike. Ford uses the data to improve its current suspension systems and design new ones, which will go on to be further refined at Lommel and Dunton.
The recent announcement by Chancellor, George Osborne, means an extra £100 million will be placed in to the UK's 'pothole fund' – raising the Department for Transport's pothole fixing expenditure to £200 million.
Testing and development processes for chassis and suspension systems carried out by Ford engineers at Dunton Technical Centre - one of Europe's largest automotive R&D centres - and Lommel Proving Ground, Belgium mean that Ford vehicles are designed to cope with the most demanding road surfaces. Tests include running real-world road simulations, high-tech data acquisition and thousands of miles of surface testing.
Ford's Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium has been subjecting new Ford vehicles to a variety of highly demanding road surfaces for four decades, and features some 50 miles of test track including many miles designed to put suspension systems to the most severe test. The Lommel Proving Ground features exact copies of real life road surfaces from around the world including Lower Dunton Road – an inch-by-inch recreation of a typically challenging UK road surface that was located near the Ford Dunton Technical Centre, Essex.
Simon Mooney, test engineer, Dunton Technical Centre, said: "The challenge for the suspension system comes when it exits the pothole - it can be like hitting a kerbstone. We test all the wheel and tyre sizes that are fitted to the production cars so we know they can cope."
Ford use high-tech equipment to record the load and strain placed upon suspension components. This equipment is fitted to so-called "Road Load Data Acquisition" vehicles costing up to £250,000 per corner, and combines with the sophisticated data recording and processing equipment inside the car to make such vehicles worth more than £1.5 million.
Mooney continued: "We use specially instrumented wheels on the car which measure the load in three directions. On some vehicles there are various sensors totalling some 200 extra channels through which to get the data."
Before vehicles reach the real-word testing stage, Ford engineers can use virtual testing facilities based in Dunton, Essex, to begin ensuring suspension systems will cope with the strains placed on them by road surfaces around the world.
With this initial suspension development taking place even before the first vehicle prototypes are produced, Ford production vehicles are among the best equipped to cope with poor road surfaces, which benefits Ford customers no matter where they drive.