All-New Ford Ranger Shapes Up

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  • Engineers utilised Formula One simulation technology to make Ranger more aerodynamic than ever
  • Ranger boasts a competitive drag coefficient thanks to resistance-cheating features such as a front air dam and a small spoiler on the tailgate
  • The simulation software delivered quick turnaround of designs and reduced expensive wind tunnel testing by a third

MELBOURNE, Australia, 17 Mar., 2011 – The same Formula One techniques – and engineers – that make race cars go faster are now helping the all-new Ford Ranger slice through the air cleaner, ensuring the compact pickup delivers one of the best fuel economy figures in the segment.

Aerodynamicists Thorsten Maertens and Neil Lewington arrived at Ford from the high-paced world of circuit-racing four years ago and brought with them the know-how and technology to make the global Ranger a more streamlined vehicle.

Using the same cutting-edge simulation software as Formula One teams, they performed more than 1000 full-vehicle aerodynamic simulations to perfect the shape of Ranger for fuel efficiency.

“A key challenge was managing the interactions between the air flowing over the roof and the variations of cargo boxes in the Ranger lineup, as this constitutes a significant proportion of the vehicle drag,” said Maertens, who supervises the aerodynamics team.

“The pickup’s ride height, especially in the 4×4 models, was another challenge. The higher the vehicle, the more aerodynamic drag it has to overcome. It’s a big number of ‘counts’ for every millimetre of ride height.”

A drag count is a single unit of drag. A drag count of 1 is equal to a drag coefficient of 0.001. The drag coefficient measures a vehicle’s resistance to the air through which it passes – the higher the number, the more the engine works and the more fuel it burns.

Working with the designers, the aerodynamics team managed to pare Ranger’s drag coefficient down to a very competitive ratio of 0.40 by implementing the most efficient design. They optimised the A-pillars, tapered the C-pillars and added a small spoiler to the top of the tailgate.

The biggest drag reduction came from a front air dam, which limits the amount of flow that goes under the vehicle and sends more air over and around the vehicle body. This chin spoiler effectively cuts the drag by about 7% while improving vehicle stability and helping to cool the engine.

“With about 60% of the power required to cruise at highway speeds being used to overcome aerodynamic effects, minimising drag has real-world fuel economy benefits for the customer, translating directly into more dollars in their pockets,” said Dr. Lewington, senior aerodynamicist.
Faster turnaround of designs
In the past, before the advent of computational models, designing an aerodynamic vehicle was a time-consuming and expensive process. Engineers would build a clay model, typically a quarter-scale model, take that into a wind tunnel and optimise its shape by modelling or manipulating the clay on the vehicle. The engineers might be able to get through 15 to 20 changes in one day at the wind tunnel but the lead up to that could be three to four months.

But by using computational fluid dynamics simulation software that models the entire flow field around a vehicle, Ford’s aerodynamics team is able to optimise a design by running up to 50 simulations in just two weeks. On the Ranger, they were able to complete most of the design in the computer before building a full-scale prototype for fine-tuning, hence reducing costly wind tunnel testing by a third.

The computational models also bring aerodynamics to life for the designers and other engineers as they can now visually see the flow field around the vehicle instead of having to make decisions based on only numbers or graphs.

“Essentially, our process is a push button where you can come in, press a button, and you’re looking at results two days later,” explained Dr. Lewington. “That means you can focus on changing the shape of the car, not trying to make simulations work or conducting wind tunnel tests.”

The ease of the methodology gave Ranger a big boost halfway through the programme when an executive decision was made to push the pickup’s fuel economy figures beyond the original targets. The aerodynamics team pitched in and shaved another 10% off the vehicle drag – a sizeable reduction mid-way through any vehicle programme.

“Without the computer technology, it would have been much more difficult, as we’d have had to go back into the wind tunnel to test prototype parts. There was very little time as the other teams were ready to kick off tooling and we had to give them the answer very quickly,” recalled Dr. Lewington.

While designing trucks that conserve energy can’t seem more different from designing speedsters that break the sound barrier, both aerodynamicists insist that the physics remains the same.

“In Formula One, we chase seconds, or even hundredths of seconds,” said Maertens. “On the Ranger, we chase down every last count of drag.”