Daimler takes testing to new High Desert ground

By Suzanne Stempinski, Contributing Field Editor

Concepts and designs on paper are one thing. Seeing them through to a finished product where you can feel it and touch it is another.

With the opening of the Daimler Trucks North America’s High Desert Proving Grounds in Madras, Ore., in mid-May, engineers will be able to test and touch their creations a lot quicker. The facility is located about three hours from Daimler’s Portland, Ore., North American headquarters.

“It’s great to have a state-of-the-art testing facility close by. We can do everything we want – it’s an engineering dream, a huge benefit. You can touch and feel it. Not just theory,” Wilfried Achenbach, Daimler senior vice president of engineering and technology told select media at the grand opening.

The proximity to the engineering team in Portland and variable climate options were vital pieces of the location selection. The route from Portland to Madras also provides vehicles real-world validation by including portions on the interstate, rural roads, and mountainous terrain through the Mount Hood pass.

The facility is an $18.7 million investment by Daimler Trucks North America. Construction took 13 months from start to finish. The 87-acre facility is critical for assurance of reliability, durability and fuel efficiency for Freightliner, Western Star, Thomas Built Buses and Freightliner Custom Chassis vehicles.

Roger Nielsen, Daimler’s new president and CEO, said that making the investment into the proving ground will make Daimler a more dominant player in the testing of commercial vehicles.

Achenbach echoed Nielsen’s claims that the new proving ground is a strategic move in the competitive truck building market.

“Together with our full-scale wind tunnel and other state-of-the-art engineering test facilities in Portland, the proving grounds will help us stay ahead of the competition,” he said.

The facility will host Daimler testing 100 percent of the time and will not be offered to other OEMs.

The test track is 3.5 miles long and is structured in a way to replicate most road surfaces around the world. It represents everything from the smoothest road around to some of the roughest terrain. The engineering into the actual test track allows the engineers to simulate a typical vehicle’s full service life in approximately six months. In other words, each mile on the track is the equivalent to 200 miles on the road. So, 6,000 miles on the track replicates 1.2 million miles on the road.

A ride and drive opportunity put me in the truck with Nielsen, who was delighted to take me for a bone-jarring ride in a new Cascadia. From smooth and easy to “thank God I’m wearing my seat belt,” we did a couple of laps around the course. With a variety of tough surfaces interspersed with straightaways and banked turns, it was a great opportunity to showcase both the truck and the track.

Their state-of-the art facility, including 14 bays and the ability to provide remote visibility to any of their engineers, puts testing and analysis of prototype trucks on the fast track.

That along with merely having close access to the testing facility will help Daimler bring new products to market “faster, quicker and more reliably,” Nielsen said. LL