DETROIT -- Great driving quality will be at the heart of the next-generation Ford Focus making its debut at the 2010 North American International Auto Show. Delivering a car that is responsive and rewarding to drive – and extends the Focus reputation for leadership in driving quality – has been a critical objective for Ford’s global brand DNA.
In developing the new Focus, Ford called upon the expertise of a vehicle dynamics team that uses a unique approach to create the optimum balance of steering, handling and ride. During a 15-year period, this team has been responsible for a series of products that are widely recognized as setting the standard for driving dynamics in their segments.
Led by Norbert Kessing, manager of vehicle dynamics at Ford’s technical center in Merkenich, near Cologne, Germany, and a dedicated team at the company’s Lommel (Belgium) Proving Ground, these experienced engineers use a combination of advanced design tools and meticulous fine-tuning to ensure that steering and suspension systems deliver precise, agile and controlled characteristics that add up to great driving quality.
“We set a clear objective to deliver products that are great fun to drive but also offer a relaxed, refined and comfortable driving experience,” said Kessing.
“This is a very easy thing to say but very difficult to achieve consistently, so our first step was to translate these high-level goals into specific performance targets so that our engineers knew exactly what they were aiming for,” he added.
Creating a Vehicle Dynamics DNA
The vehicle dynamics team in Europe was among the first groups within Ford to establish a brand DNA, which created a precise definition for the driving character they wanted to achieve in every new Ford vehicle.
This DNA was then expressed as a series of technical specifications, so that each characteristic could be measured and tested. For example, the precision and responsiveness of the steering is reflected by more than 20 different metrics that capture the efforts and responses felt by the driver during a range of conditions, from high-speed cornering to parking maneuvers.
These objective metrics allow Ford’s engineers to maximize the efficiency of their computer-aided engineering (CAE) and testing work, so that the initial development stages consistently deliver vehicles that have the required dynamic character.
Engineers use state-of-the-art CAE design tools, which allow them to model and optimize dynamic behavior before physical prototypes are available, along with sophisticated steering and suspension test rigs that enable hardware to be analyzed in detail without tying up valuable test-track time. Technology like this is ideal for iterative testing and processes because it can provide the same inputs and forces on the system every time, unlike a human driver on a test track in potentially changing conditions.
Fine-Tuning by Experienced Engineers
While the use of objective targets provides significant benefits during the development process, meticulous fine-tuning by experienced vehicle dynamics engineers still plays a decisive role.
“There is still a lot about vehicle dynamics that we cannot measure,” said Kessing. “Fine-tuning by dynamics specialists, together with an obsessive attention to detail, makes all the difference between a car that is good to drive and one that is great to drive.”
The Ford approach is centered on creating the maximum time for detailed tuning of the steering and suspension systems, to ensure that each part is fully optimized in the vehicle. The tuning specialists also work closely with CAE and testing engineers, so that their knowledge and experience can be shared throughout the process.
The impact of fine-tuning work is particularly valuable in areas of vehicle dynamics such as ride comfort and steering, where certain characteristics are difficult to judge using objective criteria. This is where the expertise of Ford’s dynamics experts pays dividends, with painstaking work on the test track translating into subtle – but tangible – improvements for the customer.
Continuous Build-Up of Knowledge
The vehicle dynamics team in Europe, established in 1994, was instrumental in making driving quality a major priority for the company’s products.
Since the group started, the lessons learned from each new vehicle have been logged carefully and fed back into the next program, so that knowledge is continuously built up within the team. This expertise has now been developed through nearly 20 new vehicles, including the new Ford Fiesta.
In the same way, the team has built on the knowledge of vehicle tuning experts, sharing experience among engineers.
“Our team retains that same enthusiasm for developing vehicles that our customers find enjoyable to drive,” said Kessing. “We are confident that the new Focus will raise standards within its class once more, combining agile handling with surprising levels of comfort and refinement.”