Ford is developing a technology to mitigate the effects of potholes on its vehicles in an effort to reduce costly repairs and accidents caused by poor road surfaces.
The RAC responded to more than 25,000 pothole-related breakdowns in the UK last year – almost a 25% increase on 2014.
Potholes can cause tyre, wheel and suspension damage, costing up to £300 a time, and the poor condition, and lack of maintenance, of European roads is said to contribute to at least one third of all accidents every year.
Recognising the issue, Ford has created 1.2‑miles of gruelling test track that replicates some of the worst potholes and road hazards from around the world.
Designed to concentrate the punishment experienced by vehicles, it helps engineers create more robust chassis systems and develop new innovations to ensure Ford vehicles can better withstand the world’s challenging roads.
The road is part of 50 miles of test tracks at Ford’s test facility in Lommel, Belgium. It incorporates potholes from Europe and the US, and simulates more than 100 hazards from 25 countries worldwide.
In the past three years, Ford engineers’ search for scary road hazards has taken them to the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Switzerland, as well as Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.
“From a rutted traffic junction in China to a bumpy German side-street, this road is a rogues’ gallery of the most bruising surfaces that our customers might encounter,” said Eric-Jan Scharlee, durability technical specialist, at Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground, in Belgium.
“By incorporating these real-world hazards into our test facilities we can develop vehicles equipped to deal with these challenging conditions.”
Engineers drive through the potholes and over surfaces as diverse as granite blocks from Belgium and cobbles from Paris, at speeds of almost 50mph.
Sensors, similar to those used by seismologists studying earthquakes, record the loads and strain on the suspension system.
Ford’s obsession with making sure its cars can withstand the world’s worst roads has driven innovation. For example, Ford is developing Continuous Control Damping with pothole mitigation technology.
The technology adjusts the suspension if it detects that a wheel has dropped into a pothole, helping protect the suspension from damage. Ford’s Tyre Pressure Monitoring System alerts drivers to punctures, and Electronic Stability Control can help drivers maintain control of their vehicle when avoiding obstacles.
All Ford vehicles for Europe are tested at Lommel, where Ford engineers and test drivers cover more than 3.7 million miles every year. For example, the all-new Transit was driven over the course more than 5,000 times as part of a testing regime designed to simulate 10 years of driver use in just six months.
Test facilities also include a high-speed circuit, salt- and mud-baths and corrosion testing in high-humidity chambers. Prototype vehicles also are driven worldwide in temperatures ranging from -40 deg C to 40 deg C.
“Analysing data inputs during vehicle testing has enabled Ford to develop a range of advanced driver aids and design modifications to help continually improve the safety and robustness of our vehicles,” Scharlee said.