Ford to build $200M testing complex in Allen Park

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. plans to spend $200 million and roughly two years building a new complex for aerodynamic testing in Allen Park.

The Dearborn automaker will break ground on the project this year, and plans to complete construction on the facility by the end of 2019. The wind tunnel complex will house a “rolling road wind tunnel and state-of-the-art climatic chamber” to help the automaker meet demand for greater fuel efficiency and performance.

“This investment in new world-class test facilities underpins Ford’s ongoing commitment to advance our capabilities to continue to provide our customers with high-quality vehicles,” Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, global product development and chief technical officer, said.

The complex will be built on 13 acres next to Ford’s Driveability Test Facility tucked between Interstate 94 and Southfield Road. Ford representatives did not immediately know if the company would have to hire new employees to staff the facility.

“We will continue to evaluate staffing plans and will know more as we get closer to the facility’s completion,” Ford spokeswoman Deeptie Sethi told The Detroit News.

Ford’s existing wind tunnel facility will still be used when the new one is built. The new complex is part of Ford’s effort to advance vehicle testing, Sethi said.

The new facility is one a few recent sizable local investments by the automaker.

Last year, Ford unveiled a 10-year renovation plan for the company’s design and product facilities in Dearborn. It calls for redeveloping outdated properties to create a walkable, more pleasing work environment aimed at attracting new, young talent to the company.

Ford also plans to invest $60 million in downtown Dearborn to redevelop unused buildings and land across about three blocks on the city’s West Downtown District into new office and retail space.

The company in early January announced plans to invest $700 million at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant and create 700 new jobs in Michigan.

The new Allen Park facility helps Ford advance its testing capabilities to keep up with the evolution of the automobile, the company said in a statement. A five-belt conveyor system can “replicate real-world drag through a rolling road aerodynamic tunnel that enables Ford to bring the road to the vehicle, rather than the vehicle to the road,” the company said.

The belt system allows vehicles to be tested at speeds up to 155 mph. Another testing system can create speeds of up to 200 mph, which will help the company test high-performance vehicles and race cars.

The other new element of the facility, a climatic chamber, can get temperatures down to minus 40 degrees, and up to as high as 140 degrees.

“This new wind tunnel facility will not only allow us to test our performance and racing vehicle line-up but will also enable us to share innovations across all our global Ford products,” said Dave Pericak, Ford Performance global director.

Wednesday’s announcement comes after Ford said late last week it would invest $1 billion in recently formed artificial intelligence company Argo AI to develop the brains for Ford’s self-driving cars.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau