TORSLANDA, Sweden -- It took Volvo seven years from the time it started development on its scalable product architecture until the first SPA models reached the market in 2015. With the help of its 3-million-euro chassis simulator, Volvo says it would now be able to do the same project in half that time.
The first model to fully benefit from the simulator, which allows Volvo to test its vehicles in virtual environments such as Germany’s famous Nuerburgring and the company’s proving grounds in Sweden, was the second-generation XC60 that started rolling out of Volvo’s factory here on April 26.
“The development process [for the XC60] has been incredibly smooth,” Egbert Bakker, Volvo’s technical leader for vehicle dynamics, told Automotive News Europe during an event where journalists were allowed to test the company’s simulator, which gets its software from Germany’s VI-Grade and its hardware from Japan’s Saginomiya.
Ferrari and Porsche have similar systems, which allow automakers to conduct extremely early stage development work in areas such as high-speed stability, balance and drive mode settings. Volvo said the work in virtual reality leads to vehicles that are more responsive and more enjoyable to drive.
Volvo said a huge amount of testing of the XC60’s vehicle dynamics was done in the simulator, where it is possible to try 20 different bushings within a couple hours instead of needing three days to test three different bushings, said Carl Sandberg, who is a concept engineer on Volvo’s vehicle dynamics team.
He said another time- and money-savings advantage comes from being able to try out a myriad of different tires in the simulator. “You don’t need multiple rounds of prototype tires, which cost a lot,” Sandberg said. “Then there is the time factor because you would need to bring the tire company to the proving ground, and if the weather doesn’t cooperate on the day of the planned test, the cost would just keep rising.”
With such a high percentage of the trial-and-error work being done in virtual reality, Volvo says the proving ground can be used more for fine tuning. “All the time we save can be put into developing better cars in less time,” Bakker said.
Stefan Karlsson, who is Volvo’s driving dynamics attribute integration leader, estimates that the simulator has already more than paid for itself.
Other benefits of the simulator are that Volvo is now seeing that it is possible to get a quicker consensus on the proper tuning for its cars. The automaker recently had more than 20 top managers test the different vehicle dynamics options for the XC60. “They all chose the car we wanted them to choose,” Sandberg said. He said this wasn’t because the test was swayed in any way, it was because it was possible for each person, regardless of his or her sensitivity to the science behind the car’s performance, to better understand what made one car’s performance superior to another.
Volvo started using the simulator in the autumn of 2014. Sandberg said the new XC90 SUV’s driving characteristics were used to help the vehicle dynamics team get comfortable with the simulator. The S90 sedan was used to help them master it. That way the simulator was ready to help Volvo make project-altering decisions during the development of the XC60.