Trucks at Work

Shrinking the wind tunnel, boosting the fuel savings

Plunking down $30 million on a wind tunnel designed to test small-sized clay models of cars and light trucks might seem a bit rich for most of us (not for the federal government, of course) but General Motors, for one, believes such “reduced scale” wind tunnel testing will help it improve the aerodynamic profile of its vehicles – generating fuel savings as well as helping the OEM comply with impending greenhouse gas (GHG) rules.

This new 35,000-sq.-ft. “reduced scale” wind tunnel – located in Warren, MI, next to the automaker’s “full size” wind tunnel unit, in use since 1980 – is equipped with a conveyor-style rolling road system that simulates real-world highway driving conditions up to a top speed of 155 mph.

[For more photos of its “reduced scale” wind tunnel, click here.]

On top of that, advanced 3D printing machines create underbodies and engine blocks that are detailed and to scale for the reduced sized clay models, according to the OEM.

Fully working suspensions with spinning wheels allows GM's aerodynamic engineers to better examine how airflow affects a vehicle’s underbody while in motion, resulting in quieter as well as more fuel efficient cars and trucks, the company said.

Ken Morris, GM’s VP of for global product integrity, added that the OEM is going to upgrade its full-size wind tunnel next year with its own full-scale rolling road system and other improvements – giving the automaker a “fuller range” of ways to design more fuel-sipping vehicles.

It’ll be interesting to see what kinds of fuel savings the OEM will eventually wring out of its new wind tunnel test facility.

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