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BMW's new wind tunnels allow the car maker to test full-size and clay models on a variety of rolling roads and in different driving situations.
BMW's new wind tunnels allow the car maker to test full-size and clay models on a variety of rolling roads and in different driving situations.

Tunnel Vision

Richard Whitehead explains how a new test centre is helping BMW beat the recession.

The country that gave the world Oberammergaueralpenkräute-delikatessenfrühstückskäse* has always had a passion for combining words. And currently one amalgamation that is big news in Germany's Bavaria region is EfficientDynamics. Although to the average pair of English-reading eyes, this is no thing of beauty, to BMW, motorists and environmentalists, it is a joy. Not only is this policy central to the company's green-facing justification for large-engined sports saloons, it is also pivotal in its corporate strategy for battling through the global recession. EfficientDynamics translates to reducing consumption ? in manufacturing and on the road ? while increasing efficiency and performance. It is the core of a movement that has seen BMW Group, which also includes Mini and Rolls-Royce, ranked as the world's most sustainable car maker for the fourth year in a row. This development strategy has allowed BMW to save resources, helping the company to maintain its lofty financial position within the car industry, but the cost of this policy hasn't come cheap. "We have been investing heavily in our efficiency and by doing so, we are showing that sustainability has value," Johannes Liebl, vice-president for BMW EfficientDynamics, told international journalists as he showed off the company's brand new Aerodynamic Test Centre (ATC) on the outskirts of Munich. The ATC required an investment of ?170 million (Dh874 million) and took three years to build. Dr Liebl admitted that BMW took this daring step forward in spite of a challenging economic climate but added that his company was bullish in the face of recession. "Those who discontinue investing in the recession will have trouble," he said. "BMW is the leading German car manufacturer now, and much of this is because of our policy of EfficientDynamics." In figures, the car maker's savings in output and consumption are impressive. For example, BMW's 3.0-litre, inline six-cylinder engine with twin-turbo can reduce emissions by up to nine per cent over previous corresponding powerplants. Added to this is a newly developed, eight-speed automatic transmission that will lower fuel consumption by six per cent. With over 1.35 million BMWs on the road that have been built around EfficientDynamics, this makes a reasonable impact. In production, the 5 Series Gran Turismo, which was shown off earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show, benefits from a number of power-raising and fuel consumption-lowering features. For the first time, a BMW model will receive the multiple benefits of High Precision Injection, TwinPower Turbo and eight-speed automatic gearbox. Together, for the 3.0-litre version, these will improve fuel efficiency by 23 per cent over comparable BMW powertrains. "We are able to shift peak torque to lower rpm," explained Wolfgang Nehse, who has been involved in powertrain development for the new model. At just 1,200rpm, the engine produces 400 Nm of torque. "This is an important aspect when we talk about downsizing in the future. In this engine we have managed to add direct injection, Valvetronic and twin turbos. It is lighter and operates more efficiently." The engine has taken 30 months to develop and will be used in a number of future models. Likewise, the eight-speed automatic gearbox that will appear on the Gran Turismo promises better fuel economy while being the same weight and size as previous variants. "It doesn't have more clutches than a standard six-speed box," explained Mr. Nehse. "There are still five of them. But the way they are laid out allows us to avoid friction by 30 per cent and this translates into greater efficiency ? 14 per cent less emissions than a standard five-speed." The new ATC has been designed to take things further. Not only are the facility's projects intended to further increase the on-road efficiency of BMW models, but it will increase operational savings. Take the new wind tunnels. For years, the car maker has been travelling the world, renting outside facilities like Pininfarina's tunnel in Italy to use alongside BMW's old installation at Aschheim, 20km away from the ATC. But where wind tunnels really come into play is reducing vehicle emissions by limiting wind drag, something Dr. Liebl says has been a BMW tradition for many years. "Vintage BMWs had to be aerodynamically efficient because of the limited power of their engines," he said. "In the 1930s, we applied our knowledge from making aeroplanes to our cars. But then, we could only air test model cars and then give them further testing on the road." The two new BMW tunnels are unique. The first is made up of a wind tunnel that can analyse full-size vehicles, giving a realistic representation of driving on the road. The driving surface is modelled through a simulation process using five rolling roads. The second allows engineers to test scale models, and do so in a number of positions to once again take measurements from real-life conditions, such as overtaking. The turbines feeding the air across the rolling road can generate wind speeds of up to 300kph. These wind trials allow aerodynamics engineers and exterior designers to work together to lower drag coefficients right from the design phase of a car's development. Small details, such as wing mirror design count for much in terms of the way air passes over a vehicle. The secret is for the airstream not to create a vacuum but to flow smoothly below, across and above the car's body. The designer will model the shape of each exterior area of the car before handing it over to the wind tunnel. Peter Galbath, BMW's head of exterior design, outlined the importance of his department and aerodynamics working hand in glove. "A reduction of air drag by 10 per cent offers drivers a reduction in fuel consumption on the road by more than 2.5 per cent. This is far from insignificant when it is seen as part of an overall package, alongside engines and transmissions. "Our role is to make sure that our designs maintain the BMW look, which we have developed over the years, while making our cars' shapes as aerodynamically efficient as possible. We do this by working closely with the experts at the wind tunnel." Of course, BMW isn't the only car manufacturer to work hard to reduce emissions: everybody's at it, and that's no bad thing for the environment. But with double-figure reductions from a model-generation ago, it has made significant improvements, and this is certainly an effective method of remaining competitive. By helping to reduce the bad gases in the environment and promising significant cuts in the cost of motoring, the German car maker is doing much to tempt as many buyer groups as it can. And as the developers at the ATC hint with a grin, these gains are only going to increase with time. * Oberammergaueralpenkräute-delikatessenfrühstückskäsis is a deli-style breakfast cheese with added mountain herbs motoring@thenational.ae

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