Overcoming the bumps in the road

Ford is developing robust chassis systems to withstand potholes. Potholes and other rough road surfaces can be a costly problem for motorists, with the RAC responding to more than 25,000 pothole-related breakdowns in the UK in 2015, at an average cost to the driver of £300.

To combat this, Ford has created 1.2‑miles of gruelling test track that replicates some of the worst potholes and road hazards from around the world. This will help engineers study the punishment vehicles endure and design chassis’ and new innovations to withstand it.

The track is part of a 50-mile test circuit at Ford’s test facility in Lommel, Belgium, and simulates more than 100 hazards identified from three years’ research in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Switzerland, as well as Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.

‘From a rutted traffic junction in China to a bumpy German side-street, this road is a rogues’ gallery of the most bruising surfaces that our customers might encounter,’ said Eric-Jan Scharlee, durability technical specialist, at Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground, in Belgium. ‘By incorporating these real-world hazards into our test facilities we can develop vehicles equipped to deal with these challenging conditions.’

Engineers drive through the potholes and over surfaces as diverse as granite blocks from Belgium and cobbles from Paris, at speeds of almost 50mph. Sensors, similar to those used by seismologists studying earthquakes, record the loads and strain on the suspension system.

‘Analysing data inputs during vehicle testing has enabled Ford to develop a range of advanced driver aids and design modifications to help continually improve the safety and robustness of our vehicles,’ Scharlee said.