• Potholes are an increasing problem for drivers who are forced to pay for costly repairs. Damage is so bad that recovery services report a huge rise in pothole-related call-outs
  • Ford test centre in Belgium replicates effects of world's worst potholes and other extreme surfaces. Lommel Proving Ground incorporates test tracks covering 80 km, more than 100 extreme surfaces replicated from 25 countries, including 1.9 km of potholes
  • Hazards including potholes, granite blocks from Belgium, and French cobbles help Ford to test and develop innovations that make cars stronger. Ford vehicles in Europe now benefit from Continuous Control Damping with Pothole Mitigation technology

Potholes and other rough road surfaces have become a pricey problem for motorists around the world.

Last year in the U.K. alone, the Royal Automobile Club responded to more than 25,000 pothole-related breakdowns - a nearly 25 per cent increase just since 2014.* Poor condition and lack of maintenance of European roads are said to contribute to at least one third of all accidents every year.**

Recognising the issue, Ford Motor Company has created a diabolical 1.9-kilometre (1.2‑mile) road that consists of precise replicas of some of the worst potholes and road hazards from around the world. What's the point of this boulevard of broken suspensions? To help engineers create more robust chassis systems and develop new innovations to ensure Ford vehicles can better withstand the world's increasingly choppy roads.

The road is part of 80 kilometres (50 miles) of test tracks at Ford's test facility in Lommel, Belgium. It incorporates potholes from Europe and the U.S., and simulates more than 100 hazards from 25 countries worldwide. In the past three years alone, Ford engineers' search for scary road hazards has taken them to Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K., as well as Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.

"From a rutted traffic junction in China to a bumpy German side-street, this road is a rogues' gallery of the most bruising surfaces that our customers might encounter," said Eric-Jan Scharlee, durability technical specialist, at Ford's Lommel Proving Ground, in Belgium. "By incorporating these real-world challenges into our test facilities we can develop future vehicles to better cope with challenging conditions."

Engineers are always investigating potential new additions for inclusion at the facility. Employing similar equipment to that used by seismologists studying earthquakes, the engineers drive through the potholes at speeds of up to 70 km/h (46 mph), using sensors to record the loads and strains to the suspension and components. This includes surfaces as diverse as granite blocks from Belgium, cobbles from Paris, and speed bumps from Brazil.

Ford's obsession with making sure its cars can withstand the world's worst roads has led to innovation. For example, Ford is debuting Continuous Control Damping with Pothole Mitigation technology in Europe on Mondeo, Galaxy and S-MAX. The technology adjusts the suspension if it detects that a wheel has dropped into a pothole, and can help protect the suspension from damage. Ford's Tyre Pressure Monitoring System alerts drivers to punctures, and Electronic Stability Control can help drivers maintain control of their vehicle when avoiding obstacles.

All Ford vehicles for Europe are tested at Lommel, where Ford engineers and test drivers cover more than 6 million kilometres (3.7 million miles) every year. For example, test drivers there drove the all-new Transit over the course more than 5,000 times as part of a testing regime designed to simulate ten years' punishment in just six months. Test facilities also include a high-speed circuit, salt- and mud-baths and corrosion testing in high-humidity chambers. Prototype vehicles also are driven worldwide in temperatures ranging from -40 C to 40 C.

"Analysing data inputs during vehicle testing has enabled Ford to develop a range of advanced driver aids and design modifications to help continually improve the safety and robustness of our vehicles," Scharlee said.

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