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Enduring the Scorching Desert Heat in Extreme Heat Tests of Hyundai and Kia

2020-09-24

Hyundai and Kia conducted extreme heat tests in California, U.S. to improve quality satisfaction.

The asphalt road radiates heat, with new cracks appearing due to the heat and dry wind. All new models developed by Hyundai and Kia are tested over 30,000 miles under some of the most extreme weather conditions, where temperatures exceed 30℃ even in November. The aptly named extreme heat test is conducted to ensure stability and cabin comfort and to check on the durability of the interior and exterior parts under the scorching sunlight and extreme heat conditions.

The California Proving Ground and Death Valley: where leaps in customer satisfaction for Hyundai and Kia vehicle quality are realized

Extreme heat testing assesses cooling performance and how well internal and external components withstand high temperatures.

Automakers are always on the lookout for places to conduct extreme weather tests for their prototype cars, to ensure that new models will operate reliably in even the most extreme weather and road conditions. The durability, heat resistance and air conditioning system performance tests are conducted in places of extreme heat.

This is why Hyundai and Kia has built its proving ground in California. Located in the Mojave desert, the California Proving Ground (CPG) of Hyundai and Kia is where you will hear a roaring engine sound all year around. Built in October 2004, approximately 300 vehicle models have since been tested to ensure impeccable quality, safety and reliability even under extreme conditions.

Spanning over 17.7 ㎢, CPG is more than 10 times larger than the proving ground at the Namyang R&D center. CPG has a total of 11 test tracks which includes a high-speed track for driving stability at high speed and wind noise, tough roads that contain various dirt, cobblestones and gravels for durability tests and a high climb test track for testing features such as auto cruise. Totaling 61 km in track length and featuring a scorching desert and high mountain, CPG provides an ideal environment for testing the powertrain and the body durability of vehicles.

In summer, temperatures soar up to 56℃, making it one of the hottest places on Earth.

The ordeals of the new vehicles do not end there as they are then subjected to further tests at Death Valley, one of the hottest places in the world. The proximity to the valley is a great advantage since this is where the vast majority of new vehicles are tested before launch. While other automakers must fly their vehicles for testing, Hyundai and Kia engineers can simply travel 3 hours on the road in order to conduct extensive tests on various features including the climate control system and engine cooling system.

“In U.S., there are many deserts where mobile phones do not work. Therefore, things can become serious if your car stops working in such a location. Hyundai and Kia are committed to developing vehicles that can operate reliably even in extremely hot and dry environments. CPG and Death Valley are ideal places, where even the smallest quality issues can be identified and addressed.” – Senior Research Engineer Jong-woo Kim, HATCI Vehicle Test Development Team of Hyundai and Kia

The test ground for extreme heat

For better vehicle performance, Hyundai and Kia developers work in extreme heat without protective gears but a pair of sunglasses.

In Death Valley, the average high temperature is above 49℃ in July and August, with road surface temperatures exceeding 90℃. Picking up even just a small rock can give you burns on your hand. Under such harsh conditions, brake discs are heated up, possibly leading to serious issues such as engine turn-off and steering system failures. Furthermore, the area’s extensive altitude range, from 86 m below to 2,000 m above sea level, leads to reduced performance due to factors such as vaporization of fuel, power output reduction, and reduced cooling efficiency due to boiling of coolants. While Death Valley is not an ideal tourist destination, it is the optimal place for extreme testing of automobiles. Committed to making better vehicles, Hyundai and Kia engineers test vehicles tirelessly in the desert valley all year around.

Mini interview

Many engineers and professional drivers focus on research to improve performance through testing.

Q. What are the conditions the vehicles need to meet in order to pass the extreme heat tests?

The vehicles must pass a 30,000 miles (48,280 km) accelerated durability test and a 100,000 miles (160,000 km) field fleet durability test to be sold in North America. The climate control system must pass the Hyundai and Kia standards set in the Test & Development Procedure. Many experienced engineers and test drivers work around the clock to meet these strict standards and to improve the performance of the vehicle parts. The engineers are currently focusing on reducing heat damage and improving the durability of the newly developed powertrains. There is a significant amount of R&D work going on to prevent discoloration of the headlamps, the bumper and the interior trim components.

Q. CPG is located not too far away from Death Valley where many global automakers conduct extreme heat tests. How are the tests conducted in the place different from those conducted at CPG?

The average daily high temperature in Death Valley can be 5℃ higher than CPG and at times can even be 10℃ higher. It is only a three-hour drive away from CPG but the altitude is quite different. Engine cooling and air conditioning system performance tests are the key tests conducted there. The systems are mass-produced for consumer use if they are proven to work well even in the harsh conditions. We also measure how hot the interior and exterior materials become and use the result as indicators for vehicle development.

Q. Hyundai and Kia have also been conducting extreme cold tests. Have there been any features or technologies which were optimized for extreme heat tests but had serious issues during extreme cold tests? In addition, can you share an example which required collaboration?

While temperatures in Death Valley hover above 45℃ on a regular basis, they can go as low as -40℃ in Alaska where our extreme cold tests are conducted. Since parts made using rubber and plastic have a particular temperature range in which they can be used, some of the parts which survived the heat ended up breaking or failing in extreme cold conditions. It is always a challenge to make a vehicle that can work well in both extreme conditions.

Q. What is your most memorable experience related to vehicle testing?

Several years ago, I was involved in the testing of an early EV model. We had to take the EV to Death Valley but its battery range was too short to drive all the way to the destination. Furthermore, there weren’t any EV chargers along the route, either. Therefore we ended up transporting the EV on a trailer to the valley and did the same on our way back. We repeated that until the tests were completed, which was a huge hassle. EVs have a much longer range today but I am reminded of the experience whenever I see an EV.

Advisor. Senior Research Engineer Jong-woo Kim, HATCI Vehicle Test Development Team of Hyundai and Kia