DEARBORN, Mich., Dec. 14, 2007 ? A multi-million dollar investment has transformed the basement of a seemingly non-descript Ford engineering facility into a technological showcase featuring robots abusing seats, a tire-squealing conveyer belt and an eight-foot chamber that houses brake testing that used to occur on the streets of Los Angeles.

Ford continues overhauling its testing facilities to speed up development of products that customers want while further fueling the company?s rapid quality gains.

Quality improvements brought to life through the ?Tough Testing? facility are evident across many models, including newly launched products such as the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKZ, and symbolize how Ford is standardizing test processes further upstream in the development process with real-world customer input.

The quality results are showing up across the board, including in new products at launch, initial quality results generally measured at three months in service and longer-term quality studies measured at three years and beyond.

The changes also help to reduce the number of prototype vehicles needed throughout the product development process.

?Ford is leading the industry in quality gains in part because of our systematic approach we take on testing,? says Judy Curran, director, Ford Global Test Operations. ?Walk through our halls, and you?ll see virtually every component of a vehicle going through tortuous durability testing.?

The effort complements the company?s makeover of its proving grounds, which included a $15 million investment to move ?Built Ford Tough? facilities from the desert to Michigan Proving Grounds. That means nearly any test an engineer needs to perform can be conducted within two hours of Ford?s Dearborn engineering headquarters.

?It?s not Ford Tough until we say it?s Ford Tough,? says Pete Dowding, chief engineer of the test laboratories. ?That?s why every vehicle program passes through our ?Tough Testing? laboratory to ensure it meets the standards expected by Ford and our customers.?

These tests include:

Brakes ? Lab dynamometers in eight-foot environmental chambers simulate full vehicle stop-and-go city traffic, environmental conditions, and mountainous terrain to evaluate brake roughness, noise and wear performance over the simulated life of a vehicle. Ford is investing even more to further enhance the lab dynamometer capabilities in 2008 to simulate more complex routes and conditions.

High-speed Uniformity ? This brand new facility, which you might expect to find at an amusement park, launched in Nov. 2007 and tests vehicle vibration concerns. The machine ? dubbed ?The Shaker ? will accurately measure small variations in radial, lateral and tangential directions at speeds from eight to 200 miles per hour.

Flat Trac-III Tire and Wheel Test ? Drifter racers would be impressed with the tire squealing taking place on this 12-foot conveyer belt that generates lateral, longitudinal and radial tire patch forces generated at various speeds, camber and steering angles. This provides the ability to measure tire handling and wear performance characteristics early in the development process as it no longer requires full prototypes to be tested on the proving grounds.

Seat Ingress and Egress Durability ? What may look like a robotic boxing match is actually an advanced test for the most used parts of a vehicle: the seats. The robots simulate customers entering and exiting seats over the life of a product to assure a comfortable ride for at least 10 years. Test engineers program real-world customer usage data into the robots to simulate how people of all shapes and sizes affect the upholstery, seat cushions and seat structures.

Fasteners ? If you like to break stuff, this is the right place. The state-of-the-art fastener lab takes all types of bolts, nuts and screw joints to their limits to establish torque specifications and enforce durability standards. This covers the 5,000 fasteners either in the vehicle or at assembly plants and include torque to failure, clamp loading, prevailing torque and torque retention. The lab works closely with all Ford assembly plants to help quickly address fastener issues, leading to significant quality gains by reducing fastener repairs and warranty claims.
Safety Belts ? This is a tug-o-war between machines and vehicle. Hydraulic rams are used to pull key parts of the seat structure, safety belts and buckles, sheet metal and fasteners to verify they meet or exceed government strength specifications. This facility runs approximately 200 tests per year.

Door Open and Close ? A symphony of perpetual motion, this row of tests is a basic element of life-cycle testing, with robotic arms that continually open and close doors, hoods and tailgates to simulate 10 years of customer service ? in just days. Doors require 84,000 open-and-close cycles to simulate this lengthy service. The test is run at artic cold temperatures of 40 F below zero to the desert heat cooking a closed vehicle at 180 F.

Seat Structure Durability ? We shake ?em all night (and day) long. A hydraulic test table shakes the seat structure to ensure part integrity and the absence of squeaks and rattles. This test simulates 10 years of customers driving in grueling conditions by using data from Ford?s proving ground to simulate durability routes.

Full Vehicle Durability Simulation ? Perhaps only gymnasts are twisted this much. This high-tech lab evaluates the reliability and durability of body structures, frames, powertrains, body mounts and suspension components. Sophisticated hydraulic road simulators in the lab replace durability torture tests that before only could happen at Ford?s proving grounds. Ford?s advanced equipment and methodology enables engineers to complete 150,000 miles of simulated customer usage in approximately four weeks.

Full Vehicle Chambers ? How long does it take to get from the Florida heat to Alaska?s arctic cold? Only an hour or so in Ford?s full-vehicle chambers that test doors, windows, hoods, trunks and liftgates in extreme temperatures from 40 F below zero to 180 F during 10 years of simulated customer use. The test validates the performance and durability of plastic and rubber parts to verify they will not become too brittle or soft during their useful lives.

Rail Car and Haul-away Test ? Perhaps the most unexpected, Ford even puts transit systems to the test. To ensure vehicles arrive at dealerships throughout the country in top condition, Ford simulates how different chassis components hold up while tied down during shipping on trains and trucks. The Rail Car Simulator replicates the roughest conditions of a shipment from Michigan to California. The Haul-away Transit Simulator replicates 10 hours of the most rigorous portions of a haul-away semi truck driving from Michigan through Pennsylvania ? five hours with the nose up 18 degrees and five hours with the nose down 18 degrees.