Ford’s new state-of-the-art Environmental Test Centre puts all the world’s weather under one roof, enabling engineers to test forthcoming vehicles in the most demanding conditions and make whatever weather they want at any time of the day.
Altitudes higher than Mont Blanc, the tallest Alpine peak, vehicle and wind speeds of up to 250 km/h (155 mph), and snow, glaring sunlight and rain are among conditions that are a push of a button away in Europe’s most advanced automotive environmental test centre. On an area the size of a football pitch, engineers can now take vehicles around the world, from the desert heat of the Sahara, to the arctic cold of Siberia and to the heavy humidity of Costa Rica
TROPICAL ZONE: THE HUMIDITY IS RISING
Humidity is a measurement of the water vapour in the air, and it can be blamed for that muggy, sauna-like feeling of some summer days. Humans are very sensitive to humidity, and vehicles can be too, which is why Ford vehicles undergo humidity testing in cold and hot conditions.
The wind tunnels in the test centre can take the humidity from 10 per cent up to 95 per cent. Engineers can make it rain heavily to see how quickly windows fog up and check wiper systems and visibility.
THE HEAT IS ON: EXTREME DESERT CONDITIONS
The temperature in the Sahara Desert can get close to 50° Celsius. Cologne is now hotter than that, getting up to 55° Celsius, just 1.7° Celsius lower than the highest-ever air temperature globally recorded. All Ford vehicles are tested in this extreme heat.
Two wind tunnels in Ford’s Environmental Test Centre feature 28 spotlights with 4,000watt bulbs. They simulate the powerful sun beams needed for testing that involves timing how fast the cabin can be cooled. Engineers can also push a vehicle to its limits: to check how extreme heat effects engine performance and see if the engine overheats at any point.
INTO THIN AIR: SCALING THE MOUNTAINS
The Mount Everest North Base Camp is at an altitude of 5,200 metres. The same altitude can be achieved in the test centre, which puts Cologne at a higher elevation than Mont Blanc, the highest Alpine peak. Ford vehicles are put through a range of tests to check the vehicle’s robustness and durability at different altitudes.
In the altitude lab, engineers can take a vehicle from 100 metres below sea level all the way up to 5,200 metres, and generate wind speeds of up to 120 km/h (75 mph) at that elevation. The high altitude cold start and durability tests ensure the vehicle’s liquids don’t burst their lines when working under higher pressure. Engineers can also combine altitude testing with hot and cold tests, cranking the temperature from -40° Celsius up to +55° Celsius.
DEEP FREEZE: CARS AS COLD AS ICE
The average winter temperature in eastern Siberia is -40° Celsius. That’s how cold it is in Cologne all year round, and all Ford vehicles experience this deep freeze to check the vehicle’s durability and robustness in the harshest winter conditions.
Ford’s Environmental Test Centre is the one place in Germany that’s guaranteed to have a white Christmas, and to have snow in July. In Arctic-like weather, engineers can see how fast a windscreen defrosts at different temperatures, check the effect of the cold on engine starts and see how long it takes to heat the cabin. Engineers can even make it snow from the ceiling, to check how the snow gathers on the vehicle’s roof and how much snow falls on the driver’s head when they open the door.