Feature

Riding out the storm in GM's torture chamber

  • ChevyCruzeWeatherTesting03.jpg

     (GM)

  • ChevyCruzeWeatherTesting01.jpg

     (GM)

General Motors wants their products to be ready for anything Mother Nature can throw at them.  To be sure, do just that at their Milford Proving Ground complex, where they can subject vehicles to conditions ranging from a desert sandstorm to a hurricane downpour.

Putting new vehicles through the ringer is nothing new at GM; they’ve been coming up with creative torture tests for their cars here for the past 88 years, but it is an evolving process.
In the old days, test cars would have to be shipped out to GM’s Mesa Arizona desert or Kapuskasing Canada cold weather facilities to face extreme conditions, but in recent years engineers have been able to bring these environments home to Michigan.

GM opened up a small portion of its secretive testing facilities in Milford to showcase some of these methods, including an in-car demonstration of a Chevy Cruze in both their dust and water test booths.

At first glance, the dust testing chamber might be mistaken for a paint booth.  There’s good reason for this because it is one, complete with automated paint spray guns mounted in the ceiling that have been converted to road dust blasting duty.

Not just any dust will do for these tests, however, as the chamber uses a perfectly consistent mixture supplied by the Mesa facility.  The fine material is a great medium to test whether contaminants can enter the vehicle cabin.

Vehicle Test Engineer Chris Lega explains that “dust actually follows a very torturous path and can travel long distances. We want to make sure that all of the door trim pads are sealed well.”

The chamber utilizes a pressure draw on the inside cabin of the test vehicle, simulating a 40 mph road speed as the dust fills the room. The ability to control this environment with precision has led the current Chevy lineup to be the best sealed from road particles to date.

Dust isn’t the only thing that the elements have in store for vehicles once they leave the production line, however, and GM wants its customers to stay dry in any situation – even in the middle of a hurricane.

The company’s universal water test booth was designed to put a vehicle through an entire lifetime of water exposure – 6600 gallons -- in just an eight minute session. The chamber utilizes an array of powerful spray nozzles to encase the car in a solid grid of falling water.

Despite the swimming pool sized drenching of each test vehicle, increased development on weatherproofing has increased leak standards to incredible levels, according to GM.

“We really hold our cars to very high levels of water proofing – down to drops.  I don’t allow more than 10 drops of water to enter anything, that’s my maximum,” says Nicholas John, climate control system quality engineer at the water chamber.

The situation in the cabin of the car during the downpour is surprisingly calm. The Cruze remains quiet enough inside for normal conversation throughout the test. That said, one would still be wise to avoid a close encounter with a tropical storm of the more “active” variety.

Much like the dust chamber, this controlled test environment allows the engineers to make minute changes to vehicle design that have a big impact on the final product.  Every vehicle that rolls off the line is subject to a one minute version of the test in chambers located at each of the assembly plants, and 25 per shift are selected to be put through the full eight minute battery.

Since the test began in 1995, GM has reduced annual water leak warranty claims by $40 million. With a post-restructuring focus on quality and durability, it’s become even more important to the development of its vehicles, so bring on the rain.

Read: Building the million-mile car