It is a familiar image: a car company’s latest models caked with snow and encased in ice, trundling across a stark white landscape in the northernmost regions of the world. Almost as common are spy shots in major automotive magazines of vehicles being put through their paces in the unforgiving heat of a desert where even the mercury in the thermometer risks boiling.
Making sure that a car can withstand extreme conditions has always been an important part of BMW’s vehicle development process. In the past, this has meant traveling to places as varied as upstate Minnesota and California’s Death Valley looking for the worst Mother Nature has to offer.
BMW recognized that technology could be used to conduct in-depth environmental testing in a much more controlled manner, so it built BMW Group’s Energy and Environmental Test Centre (ETC). This state-of-the art facility offers five test chambers – three thermal wind tunnels, an altitude test chamber and a cold test chamber – required to verify high and low temperature performance and provide as much data as possible about a wide range of vehicle operations.
Unlike outdoor testing, the engineers and technicians working at the ETC are able to manipulate almost every single parameter of a particular vehicle test. Thermal wind tunnels allow the measurement of an automobile’s aerodynamics in all driving situations with the ability to simulate scorching heat, freezing cold and everything in between. Even the effects of solar radiation on an automobile’s paint can be taken into account using a special solarium designed to simulate the sun’s presence.
The facility can also simulate heavy rainfall and snow squalls, two factors that can have a measurable effect on braking performance and cooling system effectiveness. The facility allows BMW to ignore the dictation of seasonal weather patterns – it can now perform cold weather testing in the dead of summer, and vice-versa – which means faster and more efficient product development across the board.
The ETC additionally gives BMW the chance to study how an automobile performs when starting up or idling at the upper and lower limits of temperature. The ability to control temperatures so precisely provides an added degree of accuracy when examining vehicle emissions, warm-up times and defrosting behavior that is simply not available when at the mercy of natural weather conditions. BMW’s ability to manipulate conditions at the Environmental Test Centre extends even to controlling atmospheric pressure, allowing automobiles to be run at simulated elevations ranging from below sea level to the alpine conditions of mountain roads.
The information gathered at the ETC facility is an important tool in the development of BMW’s growing Efficient Dynamics effort. As engineers are able to test even small tweaks and changes to an automobile’s design in a cost-effective manner, the ETC helps BMW in its ongoing mission to reduce C02 emissions, as well as improve the overall fuel efficiency of its entire fleet.
The environmental benefits of the ETC extend past helping BMW build better cars. By eliminating the need to travel around the world seeking out the weather conditions required for effective testing, the Environmental Test Centre has allowed BMW to dramatically cut the amount of greenhouse gases its operations produce while flying automobiles, equipment and personnel from one location to another. As an important part of BMW’s green-friendly strategy, the BMW ETC was constructed using the most up-to-date sustainable technologies available including advanced insulation, and the ability to recover brake energy from test vehicles and reuse it as electricity to power the facility’s equipment.
The BMW Group’s Energy and Environmental Test Centre is yet another facet of BMW’s commitment to building the most advanced automobiles possible through the use of technological innovation in partnership with eco-friendly strategies.