- Ford Asia Pacific gives a sneak peek at the development of a new global SUV that will redefine its segment and play a major role in Ford’s global growth strategy
- To develop the new vehicle, Ford engineers and designers have listened to consumer feedback at every stage of development, ensuring that the final product meets or exceeds customer expectations
- Designers look beyond the automotive world for inspiration before sketching and turning their ideas into clay models
- Advanced computer-aided technology accelerates Ford’s vehicle development process, enabling the global team to engineer, test and review vehicles before a physical car is built
- Two hundred prototype vehicles complete more than 1 million kilometres of testing in extreme conditions around the world
Melbourne, Australia, August 21, 2014 – Long before an all-new, world-class Ford SUV hits the roads – or ventures far off them – Ford knows who will be sitting behind the wheel.
As with any new Ford car or truck, the vehicle development process begins with the customer.
To meet rising global demand for sports utility vehicles – a segment that grew 13 percent in 2013 and is expected to continue growing rapidly – Ford set out to create a tough, flexible and smart SUV that would meet the needs of consumers in Asia Pacific.
The result is a new global vehicle that will challenge both competitors and customer expectations, and will help to drive Ford’s global growth strategy.
The new SUV will build on Ford’s robust heritage and expertise in the segment: As the world’s second-largest utility brand, Ford’s utility sales outperformed the global industry in 2013, rising 35 per cent to more than 1.2 million vehicles.
Research showed that customers in Asia Pacific were looking for a tough and powerful off-road SUV with the flexibility, features, and comfortable and dynamic on-road feel required for everyday driving.
They wanted a bold design, a smart interior and plenty of space for family and friends. In addition to high levels of premium comfort for all occupants, these customers also demanded a vehicle that would be aerodynamic and fuel efficient.
“When we looked at the market, we saw an opportunity to serve a new group of customers with a rugged and refined SUV that’s equally at home both on- and off-road,” said Jim Holland, engineering director, Ford Asia Pacific.
“We’ve risen to the challenge by making full use of our global One Ford expertise. We’ve created a vehicle that redefines expectations in its segment, builds on our segment leadership and strengthens our global SUV line-up. We expect it to play an important role in our growth strategy as we continue to launch small, medium and large utility vehicles around the world.”
Listening to the customer
The journey began as Ford set out to learn as much as it could about these customers, their needs and their aspirations, and established goals and engineering parameters for the vehicle.
These were the first steps in a development process that has culminated in the most comprehensively researched vehicle Ford has ever created in the Asia-Pacific region.
“At the very beginning, customers tell us what they want to see in a new vehicle. After that, at every stage of the development process, we make use of customer feedback to ensure we meet their needs,” said Ian Foston, SUV chief program engineer, Ford Asia Pacific. “In a region as diverse as this, different markets will have very specific requirements and expectations, and it’s important that we understand them.”
Given the growing importance of the Chinese market, potential Chinese customers in the medium SUV segment accounted for more than 50 percent of Ford’s sample size for customer feedback on the new SUV. But reflecting the vehicle’s potential global appeal and the reach of Ford’s global product development system, designers and engineers sought input from every corner of the world.
Bringing inspiration to life
With initial research completed, designers began to sketch their visions for what a new global SUV should look like, both inside and out. To create a new vehicle design, Ford designers reach far beyond the automotive industry, looking at areas as varied as architecture, lifestyle imagery and consumer products for inspiration.
For this vehicle, the design team based at Ford’s Asia Pacific Design Centre in Melbourne held a sense of balance as its goal, combining toughness, capability and robustness with high levels of sophistication and refinement. The Ford Everest Concept, displayed at auto shows in Bangkok and Beijing, provided a strong indication of their final design.
“We wanted a design that communicated off-road capability, but at the same time moved beyond traditional design cues,” said David Dewitt, SUV exterior design manager, Ford Australia. “We’re saying that you can have a high level of capability, but in something that’s sophisticated and modern. And it was important for us to build on Ford’s design DNA and SUV expertise to create a vehicle that is unmistakably a Ford.”
Adapting and incorporating customer feedback, the design team began turning two-dimensional sketches into three-dimensional models using industrial clay. An ideal medium for modelling due to its wax content – which makes it soft and pliable when warm – industrial clay is used to bring both a vehicle’s interior and exterior to life. Even when viewed up close, a finished model can be nearly indistinguishable from a production vehicle.
Virtual problem solving
As designers perfected their sketches and models, product development engineers worked long hours to ensure the vehicle’s architecture lived up to the requirements of a tough and refined off-road SUV.
With the help of computer-aided engineering, or CAE, Ford is able to improve design, safety and many aspects of the human-machine interface before a physical vehicle exists. This virtual engineering helps Ford to reduce the time it takes to develop a vehicle and, by simulating components and system interactions in minute detail, can help to avoid costly changes later in development.
“In the last decade, CAE has developed incredibly quickly as a part of the vehicle engineering process,” said Foston. “Where before we would have to build many hundreds of prototypes as a normal part of vehicle engineering, now we can optimise systems and components virtually. By the time we get to prototype vehicles, we’re much closer to the final product.”
CAE can also help to overcome the inherent design challenges of a large vehicle. Through extensive virtual analysis of airflows, Ford’s aerodynamics team have worked to give the SUV one of the lowest drag coefficients in its class.
To maximise safety, the CAE team carefully modelled the SUV’s high-strength passenger cage and ran thousands of virtual crash simulations. These simulations are conducted in such detail that a single crash would take a home computer about 12 months to process. But thanks to one of the world’s largest supercomputer rigs, Ford is able to process each simulation in just two to four hours.
The company also made extensive use of the Melbourne design studio’s Immersive Virtual Environment – called the Ford immersive Virtual Environment (FiVE) lab – an advanced visualisation facility that it has recently enlarged and upgraded to give designers and engineers more space to walk around larger virtual vehicle models like the SUV.
Using state-of-the-art technology, the team in Australia was able to virtually review the whole vehicle in real time together with colleagues in the U.S., China and Germany to gain a deeper understanding of how its design appears in real life.
By virtually viewing a stationary vehicle as a customer would – while entering and exiting, and while seated inside – engineers and designers were able to identify and address design inconsistencies, leading to a more harmonious cabin environment.
Venturing into the real world
As advanced as computer simulations are, however, they are still not a complete substitute for real-world testing. While many design details were still being worked out, engineers built early pre-production “mule” vehicles on a smart, tough and capable SUV platform that will underpin the final vehicle.
With bodies welded together out of different existing production vehicles, these Frankenstein creations may have looked odd, but they performed a crucial role: They provided engineers with their first chance to put vehicle systems through their paces in a range of real-world situations and environments, and to begin to identify and solve issues that may not have appeared in simulations.
For a new global SUV designed to be rugged off-road and civilised on-road, this phase of the development process involved taking prototypes to extremes.
Engineers conducted high-altitude testing on New Zealand mountaintops, traversed Death Valley, California and Australia’s Simpson Desert, went drifting on ice-covered lakes in Sweden, visited remote mountain areas in China and faced some of the world’s harshest winter conditions in northern Canada. These trips were augmented by lab-based durability tests that compressed years of hard use into mere days.
Throughout this period, the design and engineering teams continuously refined their work to respond to the needs of customers. Hand-built prototypes, much closer to a final production vehicle in both design and architecture, helped to fine-tune elements like powertrain and suspension characteristics.
Over the course of the real-world test and development program, Ford has produced 200 prototypes, which together will complete more than 1 million kilometres of combined testing on public roads and at Ford’s global test facilities before the vehicle enters production.
“Spending time in different parts of the world is so important to understanding different driving conditions and driving habits,” said Foston. “For example, we found that Chinese drivers come off the clutch more quickly and prefer to shift much earlier than drivers in Australia. In other markets, we discovered the importance of installing a more durable horn.”
Coming near the end of the development process, real-world testing has helped to bring the new global SUV full circle before it is put into production and delivered to customers.
“We start with the customer, and always have the customer in mind,” said Foston. “Five years and 4,500 man-years later, we have a vehicle that meets and exceeds that customer’s expectations. It’s very exciting.”