I’ve just spent a fascinating day in Munich taking a few hours to look around BMW’s latest developmental powerhouse.
The new Energy and Environmental Test Centre aims to replicate the harshest environmental conditions in world in laboratory conditions under a single roof.
The ETC has three wind tunnels and two test chambers which, between them, can conduct climatic tests that used to have to be done in the world’s harshest environments.
With the facility, new vehicles can be subject to temperatures as low as -30 degrees C and as high as +55 degrees C. BMW engineers can simulate high altitude, powered snow storms and massive deluges of rain.
Perhaps the biggest advantage for BMW is that the ETC massively reduces the need to fly test cars, engineers and equipment around the world. Although the ETC cost 130m Euros to build, the BMW board nodded its construction through quickly such were the potential savings from not having to airfreight prototypes to Death Valley or Alaska.
One of the most intriguing tests being carried out at the ETC was a Mini Countryman Cooper S executing a simulated summertime ascent of Mount Fuji. The test chamber could simulate both the heat and the effects of altitude, saving the trouble of testing in Japan in a car that’s probably covered in black tape and disguise cladding.
The controllability of the conditions – and ability to monitor the condition of the car in very fine detail – has also opened up the possibility of making big leaps in fuel efficiency. BMW points out that two thirds of the energy from a gallon of fuel is lost heat that is usually just dissipated.
These lab conditions mean that heat lose can be very carefully monitored, allowing engineers to come up with ways of ‘catching’ the heat and recycling it into electricity such as via a Thermoelectric generator.
And with the ETC built close to BMW’s new aerodynamic wind tunnels, the FIZ engineering centre and design studios, means that the company has 10,000 engineers within a few minutes walk of each other.
I asked Dr Klaus Draeger, BMW’s board member for Development, whether the classic matt black prototype would disappear, frustrating spy photographers the world over.
“We used to build a lot of prototypes, but now we will only build late-stage prototypes off the production tooling. There will still be test cars on the road, just a lot fewer of them.”