Ford Test Track Transformation Part of Efforts to Speed New Products to Market by a Full Year
- New Dearborn Development Center is part of Ford's Way Forward plan to streamline product development and bring more new products to market faster.
- $43 million transformation of 365-acre site includes new test tracks and special surfaces simulating roads throughout the United States and Europe.
- Historic 81-year-old facility opened as the country's first modern airport with two grass runways and floodlights for night landings.
- Improvements make possible the reopening of part of the Rouge River through the nearby Greenfield Village, creating a wildlife habitat and restoring the natural river flow.
- Michigan governor, Dearborn mayor commend Ford's investment.
The $43 million transformation of the company's historic proving ground into the world-class Dearborn Development Center (DDC) represents a key part of Ford's Way Forward plan. The facility is core to Ford's efforts to streamline the time required to take a new vehicle from the drawing board to production.
"In today's crowded auto market, the newest product often wins. We are committed at Ford to having the freshest lineup of new cars, crossovers, trucks and SUVs in the industry as part of our Way Forward plan," says Mark Fields, Ford's President of the Americas. "The new Dearborn Development Center is one tool we're using to help speed more products to market."
At the testing facility, vehicles under development will be driven more than a million miles a year on flooded asphalt, rutted roads and on high- speed, high-banked curves. The extreme conditions are part of Ford's rigorous testing requirements for quality.
The site also includes a new 43-acre vehicle dynamics area, 12-acre asphalt wet pad, 2.5-mile steering and handling course, and 4,000-foot straightaway. Engineers use the testing areas to develop and fine-tune a vehicle's driving characteristics and for safety validation.
The facility's "World Roads" section includes varying types of extreme road conditions found anywhere from Belgium to California to Michigan. The roads allow engineers to test early vehicle prototypes in a real-world environment -- yet in manner that is safe, controlled and secure from prying eyes and traffic interruptions.
The new investment transforms the 81-year-old Dearborn Proving Ground from a single-purpose facility -- used in the past for fuel economy measurement and routine testing -- into one of the most advanced automotive testing facilities in the world. Today, the multi-faceted Dearborn Development Center allows Ford's engineers to test future vehicles with unparalleled precision and reliability.
The Dearborn facility benefits from Ford Motor Company's expansive global network of product design, engineering and testing centers. The steering and handling course is nearly identical to Ford's test tracks in Belgium and Arizona. Now, engineers on two continents can evaluate vehicles in a consistent setting.
The new test facility also was designed with quality and safety leadership in mind. Engineers use the track to improve quality, wind noise, vibrations and powertrain performance.
The Dearborn Development Center is adjacent to Ford's recently opened Safety Innovation Center and crash barrier building. Both are part of a previously announced $65 million investment in advanced vehicle testing technology.
The safety facility joins a multitude of safety-testing assets around the globe, giving Ford the ability to conduct some of the most comprehensive occupant protection crash simulation tests in the industry.
Safety precautions also abound on the test track. Before engineers and other drivers are authorized to operate a vehicle on the various track surfaces, rigorous training and certification are required. Track supervisors also monitor activities from a new control tower.
In addition, 8,000 Ford design engineers have new walkie-talkie style mobile phones and wireless laptop computers, increasing communications between their office and the test track.
The new Dearborn Development Center is having a positive impact on the environment and the surrounding community. The facility's improvements allowed the reopening of an oxbow -- or bend in the river -- on the nearby Rouge River. The oxbow was closed off in 1972 as part of a project to pave the river to control flooding and pollution.
Reopening the oxbow -- which runs through Greenfield Village, a nearby tourist attraction -- restores natural wetlands for wildlife and creates a place for recreational use of the river. Work is under way to connect both ends of the oxbow to the Rouge River, providing river access for canoers.
In addition, the facility was built with recycled crushed concrete from a local road construction project. Old portions of Michigan's I-94 and I-96 freeways were moved to the new test track to create the foundation for the new vehicle dynamics area. The move kept 500,000 tons of concrete from local landfills.
The site's new Product Review Center also features environmentally responsible design and construction and is awaiting certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
A Storied History
The test track site opened in 1925 as a commercial airport with flights between Detroit and Chicago. That same year, the Ford Air Transportation Service became the first regularly scheduled airline, flying passengers between the two cities. The site also featured the largest, most modern and only privately owned permanent dirigible mooring mast, built by Henry Ford.
In 1938, test tracks were laid around the airport runways, and Ford's Dearborn Proving Ground was born. In 1947, The Ford Air Transportation Service relocated to Detroit Metropolitan airport, and the 365-acre site became a full-time automotive test facility.
Today, the experimental vehicle building and experimental engine building -- originally used as airplane hangars -- are the only structures remaining from the airport.
Through the years, Dearborn Proving Ground led the industry in advanced vehicle testing, resulting in such iconic products as the 1949 Ford and 1964 Ford Mustang.
Gov. Granholm, Mayor Guido Praise Ford's Leadership
The redevelopment of the Dearborn Development Center and investment in Michigan and the local community are being applauded by governmental leaders.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm cites the nearly $10 billion of investments in Ford Motor Company's Michigan facilities within the last five years as solid evidence of the company's commitment to its future and to the state's future.
"Ford Motor Company is taking the necessary steps to make it more competitive in the changing global auto industry," Granholm said. "We applaud and commend Ford for its continued support of our great state and for investing in facilities like this one that put more great American products on the road faster than ever."
Dearborn Mayor Michael Guido calls Ford a great neighbor and corporate citizen.
"We're proud that, in the hometown of Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company continues to be a leader in both vehicle quality and timely production methods -- applying the latest technologies available for this landmark test track," Guido said. "We're pleased it is integrated with the design and engineering center in Dearborn, so the entire complex keeps us a focal point of Ford's innovations.
"Dearborn, Ford Motor Company and The Henry Ford are committed to being good stewards of the Rouge River, so we're happy to mark the completion of the Oxbow project, as well."