DETROIT - DaimlerChrysler is doing most of its engine testing these days in a parking lot.
In January the company put the finishing touches on a $276 million engine testing complex squeezed into a narrow parking lot at its sprawling technology center in Auburn Hills, Mich.
The Powertrain Test Center consolidates much of DaimlerChrysler's North American engine testing operations and some of its global engine testing under one 250,000-square-foot roof. The test cells can handle everything from the 1.4-liter four cylinder used in the Mercedes-Benz A class to DaimlerChrysler's new 700-hp V-8 entry into stock-car racing.
'One of our goals is to bring all of our engine testing in-house close to the platform teams,' said Harold Page, director of powertrain laboratories at DaimlerChrysler. The move should save the company money in logistics and vendor fees and allow it to shave precious months off product lead times, he said.
Until now, DaimlerChrysler engines have been tested all over the Detroit area. The company has test cells at its Chelsea, Mich., proving grounds; at its former headquarters in Highland Park, Mich.; at its Jeep engineering headquarters on Detroit's west side; and at various testing service vendors. Mercedes-Benz engines are tested for performance at the company's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, but vendors are used to test durability.
The center consolidates a large portion of the old Chrysler Corp.'s test facilities and some of Mercedes-Benz's durability testing in its five wings, each of which has a specific purpose.
Wing A is for environmental testing and has cells that can reproduce temperatures ranging from 200 degrees Fahrenheit to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and simulate altitudes of up to 13,100 feet above sea level. Wing B is for testing engine performance; Wing C is devoted to rear-drive powertrains; Wing D is for testing engine durability; and Wing E is for torturing transmissions.
There are cells for up to 130 test engines in the complex. They drive dynamometers with attached electrical generators. About 20 percent of the electricity consumed in the adjacent technology center and corporate headquarters is produced in the dynamometer facility, Page said.
Engine exhaust is routed through a battery of 1-million-BTU natural gas furnaces that blast the pollutants down to government-mandated standards. The building's 35 miles of plumbing are so complex that DaimlerChrysler used its three-dimensional vehicle design software to lay out the structure in virtual reality.
Unlike facilities at Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, the Powertrain Test Center handles only gasoline engines now. Page said alternative-fuel engines are too low-volume to create test cells to handle them, and diesels have an uncertain future in the United States. Companywide diesel testing is being left up to Mercedes-Benz in Europe, but that will change as the company explores diesel applications in North America.