The modernization puts Calspan — which still uses its 47-year-old outdoor center for unrelated tests — on par with European third-party labs, which tend to be newer and more capable than those in the U.S., he added.
U.S. crash-test centers use "home-grown" systems to guide and propel a test vehicle, Goupil said. This creates a lot of variation. Calspan uses a microtrack and propulsion system known as Messring, Goupil said, which is considered the industry gold standard and allows for the greatest accuracy. The same system is used by Toyota, Honda, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which opened a $200 million lab in Germany in 2016.
General Motors tests vehicles at several global engineering centers. Its safety labs are constantly updated to meet changing global regulations, and each lab has unique capabilities, Jack Jensen, a group manager at GM's Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness Lab in Milford, Mich., said via email.
Capabilities also may differ between GM and independent labs. GM, for example, typically records more data channels during a crash test for vehicle development than what may be recorded by a consumer-oriented or regulatory test lab.
Jenkins acknowledged the Transportation Research Center, built in the 1970s, does not have the most modern facilities, but he said it can meet most test requirements. Last year, it ran about 200 crashes.
Crash-testing is becoming more expensive, Jenkins said, because customers and regulations add more requirements, data sources and high-speed cameras as the technology advances.
In May, Applus IDIADA, a Spanish automotive engineering and validation services company with U.S. operations headquartered in Detroit, acquired a majority stake in Karco Engineering of Southern California. Karco conducts more than 100 crash tests per year on outdoor tracks under contracts with NHTSA and private companies, said its general manager, Tom Peng.
Another lab, MGA Research Corp., was founded 40 years ago by three ex-Calspan employees. It completed an expansion of its crashworthiness center at its Wisconsin proving grounds in 2015.