More than a feeling
When you collect a new car from the dealership, there are certain things you already know: how the car is going to look, how fast it is likely to go, and which features are included. You may have taken a test drive, but you are still unlikely to be 100 percent sure about how the vehicle is going to feel once you’re behind the wheel and out on the roads you know best. Yet, thanks to the expertise of people like Peter Hellgren, you can.
Peter has been working as a validation engineer for Volvo Cars for more than 20 years, and we’ve joined him on a validation expedition where a S90 and V90 are being put through their paces. Volvo Cars’ Validation Engineering Team embarks on expeditions across the world to test vehicles from prototype to production, to ensure the car delivers everything the model description promises.
“Validation is all about feeling,” says Peter. “That feeling you get when you touch a car for the first time, whether it’s the door handle, the steering wheel or the gear stick – these are the things our customers will experience when they buy the car, so we must experience them in the same way. It’s all about meeting the customers’ expectations on an emotional level.”
Peter has taken part in expeditions all over the world, and each is designed to test how different aspects of a car behave in different climates, at different altitudes and in different surroundings. For example, how does it feel to steer the car in the searing summer heat of Australia or how do the freezing winter temperatures of Sweden affect the way the windscreen wipers perform?
The cars are assessed subjectively, with the validation team meeting at the end of each day.
“We discuss our findings together and give each part of the car we have tested a mark out of 10. If a part of the car receives two very different marks, we discuss why that could be,” says Peter.
The Volvo Cars Validation Team is made up of 15 engineers, each with their own area of expertise. The team must work closely with each Volvo department to find the right balance of properties and ensure that the car works as a whole.
As well as testing a car’s hardware, Peter and his team must also test the software. This can take time as there is more software in today’s cars than ever before. At Volvo Cars, there are test labs where the different types of software are run constantly to make sure everything works. Here, the validation engineers can also test how buttons function and how they feel to operate in real-life situations. It really is a combination of the technical and the tactile.
On the way back to the Volvo Cars factory, Peter says he struggles to switch off his validation mode away from work. “You start to validate everything, from choosing a sofa to a new mobile phone!”
So, the next time you climb into your car and everything works and feels exactly the way you expect, remember, that’s no coincidence.