Snow in July or a Christmas heatwave?


The air is shimmering like the desert, while just a few meters away it’s so cold you could build a snowman. And there’s a category five hurricane in the next room. Welcome to Ford’s “Weather Factory”.

The new state-of-the-art Environmental Test Centre puts all the world’s weather under one roof, enabling engineers to test forthcoming vehicles – from a small KA+ to a two-tonne Transit in the most demanding conditions.

With altitudes higher than Mont Blanc, the tallest Alpine peak, vehicle and wind speeds of up to 250km/h, snow, glaring sunlight and rain are among conditions that are a push of a button away in Europe’s most advanced facility of its kind.

On an area the size of a football pitch, engineers can now take vehicles on demanding journeys around the world, from the desert heat of the Sahara, to the arctic cold of Siberia and the heavy humidity of Costa Rica.

“The vast range of punishing simulation tests will enable Ford drivers to be confident their vehicles can handle whatever climate zone they live in,” said Joe Bakaj, Ford's European Vice President of Product Development. “Travelling to the four corners of this building is like taking a trip to the four corners of the world, and our engineers will do that around the clock, every day, to continue to develop future best-in-class vehicles.”

The subject of a €70 million investment, the test centre offers the first automotive wind tunnel that can simulate 5,200 metres, the same elevation as the Mount Everest North Base Camp, and the first with such a range of conditions that can be simulated under one roof. The facility can also cool two rooms to – 40 C and heat them up to 55 C, as well as generate 95 per cent humidity.

The temperature extremes make the centre in Cologne, Germany, the hottest, coldest and most humid place in Europe, and home to the highest point in Western Europe.

Now fully operational, engineers can work on up to ten different vehicles simultaneously. Testing covers comfort, safety and durability, as well as electrical performance, braking, air conditioning, trailer towing, cabin heating and traffic jam situations. Engineers analyse the effects of high speed winds on exterior parts, check the robustness against rain and snow, and see how fast a windscreen defrosts at different temperatures.

All our vehicles will be tested in the facility, which features three climate wind tunnels, including a high-altitude lab, and four temperature-controlled test chambers, one of which will also facilitate humidity testing.

“We can see how windshield wipers function in Arctic temperatures, how engine performance changes in extreme heat and cold, and even how much snow falls on the driver’s head when they open the door. It’s an engineer’s dream,” said project manager Michael Steup.

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