GM Facility Reliable for Testing in Heat
General Motors located its hot weather test center at Yuma Proving Ground four years ago, a time which has seen the relationship between the Army and GM grow and, more importantly, has resulted in a test facility with a reputation for reliability.
The facility, formally known as the General Motors Desert Proving Ground, has a permanent workforce that numbers about 100 employees, supplemented by engineers who travel to Yuma throughout the year.
The test center’s mission is to perform hot weather and general development testing of general Motors vehicles in such areas as ride and handling, braking and power trains, and more. The heart of the operation is a huge garage, lab and office complex where vehicles are worked on and test components installed, with several paved tracks and a 23-acre paved vehicle dynamics pad for handling work.
Pretty much everything sold to the public by General Motors goes through testing in Yuma, from trucks and sedans to hybrid vehicles, particularly if a model could be used or sold in a hot weather environment. That includes GM’s vehicles produced overseas.
But it isn’t just hot weather work that’s performed in Yuma.
“When it’s snowy and the roads near our headquarters in Michigan are ice covered, we do a great deal of general purpose testing – usually between December and March,” said Frank West, general manager of the GM Desert Proving Ground.
Army testers from Yuma Proving Ground regularly make use of the General Motors test facility, a key component of the original agreement that brought the company to the proving ground.
“Both sides benefit from sharing facilities,” said West. “The Army uses our dynamics pad to check braking systems on armored vehicles and we use YPG’s dust course and gravel roads. It’s been an excellent partnership, for our cultures are similar.”
West enjoys managing the facility because of the many challenges it brings. “We’re constantly working with new technology, which means we have to keep abreast of new developments and keep everyone trained,” he said. “More than this, though, is that we’re in a remote location. We need to have people who can expertly work on any aspect of a vehicle.”
This is important when performing a test on one part of the vehicle and something else causes a problem, for they must respond and conduct repairs on site.
“We can’t wait for someone to travel out from Michigan,” West emphasized.
GM supports technical education programs in Yuma from the grade school level all the way up through college. This benefits the community as well as GM, for the firm has hired many of these same people.
Recently, 200 student engineers from 15 North American universities gathered at the GM facility to test ecologically-friendly vehicles re-engineered by the student teams. The three-year competition challenges students to reduce the environmental impact of a GM-donated Chevrolet Malibu without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability.
“This represents the future,” commented West. “These students are the engineers of tomorrow. They learn from us and we learn from them.”
Russell McCloud, Yuma County supervisor and longtime manager of a local automotive repair firm, sees beneficial results from the partnership between GM and Arizona Western College in establishing engineering and other technical courses.
“We’ve observed much greater interest among high school students in going into engineering, which is great for YPG, GM, the community and the entire country,” he said.
McCloud said automobiles are much more complex than when he began in the industry.
“Cars have changed dramatically,” he said. “There are more electronics and computer power in the average vehicle today then there was in the Apollo spacecraft that traveled to the moon in 1969.”