Arizona has more than 100 days per year where we record temperatures of 100 degrees or higher. While we prefer to brag about the other 265 days, for vehicle manufacturers like Ford — particularly product and development teams — the hotter, the better. To make sure that their vehicles can withstand the most extreme conditions, companies like Ford perform hot-weather testing to identify potential issues before their vehicles reach consumers.
Ford has been testing vehicles in Arizona since 1946, starting in a Phoenix garage, then moving to their first proving grounds in Yucca in 1955. They’ve been at the current facility since 2004. Arizona is the ideal testing location, not only because of the heat, but because of the road dust, city traffic, mountain grades, and the variety of altitudes. The temperate winter climate allows for development work that can’t be done in the snowy Detroit weather.
I had a rare behind-the-curtain look at the Arizona Proving Grounds (APG) outside of Wittmann to see first-hand how this testing is done, and as an added bonus, get a sneak preview of the 2018 Ford Expedition. We were able to ride along for a trailer tow demonstration on the Expedition, a high-speed heat management test, and a tire exercise on the wet pad.
Obviously, the Expedition, while not yet available in dealers, is beyond the testing stage, so this was merely a demonstration. We got a taste of its best-in-class towing capability, and rode along as it quietly and effortlessly reached speeds in the triple digits around the test track. The tires held firm (even as passengers were tossed around) during a circuitous trip on the wet pad.
Were this actual testing, engineers would have nearly 300 sensors hooked to the vehicle, recording ambient temperature, air-conditioning pressures, engine speed, fluid temperatures, and sun load. Sensors attached to the windows, seats, radio, and all around the drivers and passengers monitor cabin temperature. All of this is done to see how the vehicle will respond to the extreme heat. Can the system cool the engine sufficiently under heavy loads? Does exposure to the sun deteriorate the paint and other materials? Can electric vehicles perform and charge adequately?
“We want bad things to happen here, rather than before the vehicles reach the public,” explained Robbie Schaffer, APG test technician. The important work done at APG has paid off, earning Ford a number two ranking among all non-premium brands in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study. One of Arizona’s best kept secrets is helping Ford improve the quality of its vehicles and the safety of the public.
Arizona Proving Grounds By the Numbers
$213 million – Benefit to the state and local economy since 2004
1,500 – number of acres comprised (leased from the State of Arizona, governed by Maricopa County)
19 miles of paved surfaces
3 miles of dust surfaces
2 acre wet vehicle dynamics area
20 acre dry vehicle dynamics area