When Mazda say their cars are built to last, they mean it. Every model is put through merciless testing processes designed to improve durability. It’s all part of Mazda’s invigorated vision for sustainable car making. And things just got more serious thanks to the new climate test lab built last year at Mazda’s Hiroshima headquarters.
This state-of-the-art test chamber puts Mazda at the cutting edge of the latest technology, submitting the car to the most extreme of weathers so that your average heatwave or snowstorm is a walk in the park.
“We simulate the heatwave that hits North America every few decades,” says engineer Naoya Uehara, who measures the effect of severe temperatures on the car’s interior and exterior. “And the kind of deep freeze that comes once every few decades in Canada, western Russia or Northern Europe.”
Meanwhile, to assess the impact on the car’s thermal fluids when it’s in motion, engineer Syouta Yamada puts it through a range of punishing tests. The exact conditions of these tests are a closely guarded secret, but the laboratory can reproduce outdoor temperatures ranging from scintillating to sub-zero, humidity levels of between 30 and 80 per cent, winds of up to 155mph and equatorial sunlight.
After the ordeal, the engineers pore over the data and make improvements that resonate through future models. Uehara recalls a heat test of the Mazda CX-5 when they noticed that certain parts had shrunk. “We discovered that the resin had crystallised, increasing its density,” he says. “We worked this model into our simulations, and now we prevent it before it happens.”
The test engineers’ ingenuity is certainly setting automotive industry standards as Mazda’s renewed commitment to the environment demands fresh solutions. In order to reduce aerodynamic drag, the car is covered underneath. However, this catches and transfers heat towards other components, which needs to be avoided. Yamada’s team managed to redirect the heat flow away from the car without worsening aerodynamic resistance – which they checked in the state-of-the-art wind tunnel – resulting in a piece of engineering innovation that has since been patented.
Over in the vehicle corrosion test lab, world-class splash simulation technology means engineers can think laterally across models, streamlining the testing process in time for ambitious new lineups.
“For example, when we put the same engine in the Mazda3 and CX-30, the Mazda3 engine got a lot more water on it because the vehicle height is lower,” says rust prevention performance engineer Satoshi Maruyama. “We adapted our strategies to the Mazda3, and consequently the CX-30 was almost entirely free of problems.”
At the nearby Miyoshi proving ground, cars are driven on 13 punishing courses. Here, engineers check for defects and unwanted noise with a uniquely expert eye. “Every one of us can assess driving performance, measure and analyse data, identify problems, provide feedback to the relevant department and make suggestions,” says vehicle durability test engineer Sachio Yamakawa. Adding, “I hear that at other manufacturers these skills are often spread within the team. But being multi-skilled is crucial to making durable cars because you can spot problems and act immediately.”
At the heart of all these ruthless testing processes is the quest for sustainable car making. As Yamakawa puts it, “durable cars minimise the need for replacement parts, reducing the impact on the environment. Not to mention of course, you get to drive your beloved Mazda for a lifetime”.