Ford’s Proving Ground is located near Geelong and is celebrating 50 years of operation. This test location is one of only several fully equipped Ford proving grounds in the world. Today press were invited to the private location to celebrate the arrival of the all-new 2016 Ford Mustang, alongside an original 1967 Ford Falcon XR GT. The XR GT was the first Australian-developed GT performance sedan engineered and tested at the proving ground.
The Proving Ground covers 930 ha of rural land near the You Yangs National Park (YYPG) in Lara, about 50 km south-west of Melbourne, Victoria. It currently employs around 300 engineers, technicians and support staff.
Among the facilities are the Advanced Centre for Automotive Research and Testing (ACART), a Vehicle Semi-Anechoic Chamber (VSAC), vehicle dynamics area, a kinematics and compliance rig and a High Speed Centre. The proving ground also has more than 80 km of test surfaces covering a range of roads, corners, braking test areas and inclines designed to test both vehicles and components.
While there’s been much said and written about Ford’s exit from Australian production at the end of 2017, after that day comes, Ford will be the largest automotive employer in the country. This is thanks to a continued investment in the higher level jobs in design, research and development of vehicles.
“The proving ground, the $27 million Geelong Research and Development Centre and the AsiaPacific Engineering Centre in Campbellfield – including the Design Centre – are instrumental as part of Ford’s on-going investment story as the company continues to build its capability as an innovator and centre of excellence for the Asia Pacific region post-2017.”
If we look at 2015 alone, Ford has spent around $300 million on R&D, bringing to $2 billion the amount of money spent on research and development over the past 6 years. Its a positive sign and there remains opportunities for those production line workers who are motivated to learn new skills, to transition to a high-skilled job.
Ford’s Proving Ground also allows the development and durability testing of Ford vehicles for Australian conditions, but is also used in the testing of a wide range of vehicles for other markets in the Asia Pacific region and even globally. Most recently the YYPG was used to help the development testing of the new Ford Everest SUV and the development of the Ranger pickup, which is now sold more than 180 markets globally. Another example is the the Ford Figo sold into India, which has also spent time in testing and development at the now half century old location.
When we look at the specifics of what is being tested, its key vehicle attributes like durability, structural strength, powertrain reliability, corrosion resistance, ride comfort for all conditions, crash and safety structures as well as emission compliance.
These attributes are testing using various parts of the facility, namely those listed in detail below:
Constant Speed Track (CST) The three-lane reinforced concrete CST is 4.8 km long. There is an additional 304 m lane for merging both on and off the track and a long lane for stopping and parking on the west straight. The 400 m radius turns are super elevated to provide a neutral speed of 164 km/h in lane three, the highest point of the CST. Water baths are provided for car and truck brake testing off the straight.
Basic Durability Road
The Basic Durability Road is a 3.6 km loop, which is situated over rolling terrain with mild to severe gradients. The maximum upgrade is 25 per cent and the maximum downgrade is 14 per cent. The road divides into an inner and outer loop around a steep hill. Total road length including both loops is 4.3 km.
The Unimproved Road is a 5 km wide loop. It is an all-weather road and consists of rolling terrain with a number of short steep grades. It is mainly a granite-type gravel surface but includes formed bitumen sections with ruts to simulate potholes and wash board sections set at 30 degrees to the line of traffic.
Mud or Salt Bath The Mud or Salt Bath is a concrete structure 27.4 m long and 3.3 m wide. The bath has side walls that are 610mm high.
There are two skid pad facilities, one is a dry skid pad and the other has an artificial wetting system that uses a central water cannon.
The Water Bath is a concrete structure with a 19 m entry and exit ramp. It is 2.2 m wide, 45 m long and has side walls that are 610mm high.
This area consists of sand to a depth of 200 mm laid over a 30 mm asphalt surface. In turn the sand and asphalt are laid on a 200 mm bed of crushed rock.
Special Surfaces Road
This road is 760 m long with three wide lanes and four 20 m diameter turnaround areas. This road, with a range of surfaces from potholes to Belgian blocks to cobblestones and washboard road surfaces, is designed to test a vehicle’s body strength and durability.
Dust Test Road
The dust test road replicates the fine dusty roads of outback Australia, generally utilised for body sealing systems testing.
Disclaimer: Jason travelled to the proving grounds thanks to Ford Australia.