Ford builds its own

weather factory

Ford environmental test centre, Cologne

CAR companies spend millions of pounds developing new models which are tested in freezing Arctic conditions, at high altitudes, in scorching desert conditions and in humid jungles.

Now Ford is about to open a new facility in Cologne where engineers will be able to choose the weather any day of the year and put new products through their paces.

The new Ford "Weather Factory" will enable engineers to test forthcoming vehicles in the most demanding conditions from around the world - all in the one place.

They will be able to create altitudes higher than Mont Blanc, the tallest Alpine peak, vehicle and wind speeds of up to 155mph, snow, glaring sunlight and rain.

As well as turning low-lying Cologne, in Germany, into the highest point in Western Europe at the touch of a button, the multi-million euro facility will be the most advanced automotive facility of its kind.

The first to simulate altitudes of 5,200 metres, the centre will also offer extremes of -40C, the average winter temperature in eastern Siberia, to +55C - just 1.7deg below the highest-ever air temperature globally recorded - as well as 95 per cent humidity.

The centre - which Ford expects to be fully operational later next year - will enable engineers to work on up to nine different vehicles simultaneously, testing comfort, safety and operational capabilities including electrical performance, braking, air conditioning and pulling heavy loads.

The football pitch sized facility will cover an area of 5,500 square metres, include two climate wind tunnels; a high-altitude lab; and four temperature controlled test chambers, three of which will also facilitate humidity testing.

It will also facilitate testing of Ford's expanded line up of performance cars and sports cars, which includes the Focus RS, Focus ST, and Ford Mustang, in conditions of higher wind speeds. And it will be used to test all front-wheel, rearâwheel, and all-wheel drive vehicles.

Ford test facilities in Europe also include Lommel Proving Ground, in Belgium, home to a specific pothole testing track, side-wind tests, and saltwater and mud baths.

At present Ford vehicles are regularly subjected to as much as 3.5million miles of punishing real-world durability testing, which can include locations as demanding as the Mojave Desert, in the US, the Arctic Circle, and the Grossglockner High Alpine Pass in Austria.

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