From treacherous terrains to heat-soaked cities, every Ford vehicle undergoes thousands of hours of scrutiny by a team of hundreds of engineers, designers and technicians stationed around the globe long before it makes it to the showroom floor.
The new-generation Expedition is no exception. Almost a year to the day ahead of its Middle East market launch, in a sweltering corner of the desert near Dubai, a group of engineers is poring over the 2018 Expedition ahead of its first venture on to UAE sand.
It’s mid-July 2017, and the temperature has already soared to close to 50 degrees Celsius. A breeze has kicked up, bringing with it clouds of swirling fine dust and sand – making the conditions extremely challenging for engineers. The new generation Expedition sits ready for the day ahead. External sensors are taped to its new aluminum bodywork, tyres have been deflated to offer better traction on sand, and final checks are made by the team – a collection of engineers from Dearborn, Michigan, and Ford’s own Middle East in-market product development team based in Dubai.
Expedition chief programme engineer Todd Hoevener is present, and explains, “In-market testing is to confirm the work we’ve done, and fine tune the product before it’s introduced. Our standards within Ford account for extreme conditions, so we developed this vehicle for global use. But it is very important to test in market, not only here but in other parts of the world, for final confirmation.
“Even though we simulate these temperatures in our labs and at our Arizona proving ground, this is a unique combination of both deep sand – which is very fine, versus the coarse sand we have in the States – as well as high temperatures. In addition, high winds with sand blowing really test the car’s ability to handle sand ingestion,” he adds.
Weather aside, the Middle East offers very unique circumstances for Ford’s engineering team to contend with. Vehicle use in this part of the world differs greatly to other areas; customers are more likely to take their SUVs offroad into the desert or onto a trail – and expectations on capability are set extremely high. While driving on the loose sand is fairly similar all over the world, desert driving in deep sand on a reasonably regular basis is something particular to this region – and customers expect SUVs to deliver where it counts.
At more than 5.3 metres long and 2.1 metres wide, the new generation Expedition is easily the most spacious desert-going eight-seat vehicle on the market. With a 400hp* and best-in-class 650Nm* EcoBoost engine, class-exclusive 10-speed transmission and advanced four-wheel drive system with two-speed transfer case, the Expedition is equipped to handle the Middle East’s toughest conditions. With a tailored Terrain Management System (TMS), mastering any surface – whether on the loose sand or on tarmac – is as easy as turning a dial.
“The off-road modes are designed to help drivers navigate conditions they may not be familiar with – like sand,” Hoevener explained. “What’s the worst thing that can happen to you as a driver when you’ve got your family and friends in the car? Getting stuck. Sand mode, if you’re not as skilled, just makes it enjoyable to drive – and you have that safety net of having the vehicle electronics there to help.”
Much of that learning comes from the long hours Ford’s team put into developing the car – and in-market testing is essential in fully understanding situations customers will face.
“During development, we drive to get stuck so that we know the limits of the vehicle. We then calibrate our engine management and Terrain Management System settings so that the next time we – or, ultimately, the customer – gets into that situation, the vehicle doesn’t get stuck again,” he said.
For Ford engineers, that means long days in the desert heat, and more days of on-road testing where the 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost faces challenging mountain roads at the height of the UAE summer, and city driving conditions in temperatures close to 50 degrees Celsius.
“It’s a very proud moment to see the vehicle perform well in these types of situations and drive it to see how the people in this market will be using the product. I’ve been on the programme since it started a few years ago, so it’s great to see it finally developed and in a market that clearly loves the Expedition,” Hoevener concluded.