DR. NORBERT KESSING: LEADING FORD EFFORT TO MAKE VEHICLE DYNAMICS AN APPLIED SCIENCE
Dr. Norbert Kessing,
manager, Vehicle Dynamics, Ford of Europe.
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- Dr. Norbert Kessing is Ford’s lead European expert behind the addictive driving experience in the next-generation Ford Focus. He is Ford of Europe’s manager of vehicle dynamics
- Kessing’s role is to develop Ford’s obsession with the art of dynamics into an objective, scientific discipline
- Investing in testing to learn about the dynamic behavior of Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) under Kessing’s direction has resulted in advancements in steering agility that distinguish the next-generation Ford Focus
They say Ford has driving dynamics down to a science with cars like the next-generation Ford Focus.
Although many consider the development of the handling characteristics of a vehicle to be something of an art, it certainly doesn’t look that way at Ford. After all, the engineering team that crafts the dynamic performance of European Ford products is steered by a man with a doctorate in the field.
Dr. Norbert Kessing is Ford of Europe’s manager of vehicle dynamics. He’s a man with a lot more than seat-of-the-pants knowledge about the dynamic properties of automobiles, and his knowledge has been a critical advantage for Ford in the development of the next-generation Focus.
“More and more, we are turning vehicle dynamics into an objective, scientific process,” says Kessing, a friendly 47-year-old German. “It used to be very subjective, but more and more we are finding ways to measure and replicate the forces and complex influences on a vehicle’s dynamic character. That means we can have a much deeper understanding of what a vehicle is doing dynamically and why.”
And Ford already knew a lot.
Driving dynamics has been a key DNA element for the Ford Focus since it was originally introduced in 1998. Since that time, Ford has honed its science, a process that involves sophisticated computer-aided engineering tools, testing engineers working in laboratories at Ford’s European product development facility in Merkenich, Germany, and test drivers at its Lommel (Belgium) Proving Ground.
“We still use test drivers and skilled tuners are crucial,” Kessing said. “As much as we have been able to study scientifically, there are still aspects of dynamics that require subjective testing by expert drivers. But our approach helps give these drivers better chassis setups to evaluate, and close collaboration among all the disciplines allows a test driver to understand what he just felt while driving on the proving ground. This knowledge loop allows us to improve continuously.”
It’s an approach that has created the addictive driving experience promised by the next-generation Ford Focus.
Kessing points to the adoption of Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) in the next-generation Focus models. It is far from an off-the-shelf system.
Kessing’s team was reluctant to adopt EPAS, despite its positive contribution to reduced fuel consumption, until its dynamic behavior could be better understood. EPAS systems are considered by some to be a vehicle dynamics compromise.
“What many people don’t realize is how complicated EPAS systems are,” Kessing said. “There are more than 250 parameters that require precise programming in an EPAS system. If you don’t fully understand how all those parameters contribute to the dynamics, you will risk having a vehicle that gives the driver poor steering feedback.”
Kessing’s vehicle dynamics team worked with a testing fixture company to create a special laboratory testing device on which EPAS hardware and its various programming possibilities can be systematically evaluated. It was a 7-figure investment in the next-generation Focus’ driving dynamics – an investment that paid off in new levels of agility and excellent driver feedback.
“You can’t just go out on the test track and figure out EPAS,” Kessing said. “That’s because it would take forever to systematically investigate and understand all the parameters. We were the first to use a testing rig like this, and the results have been impressive. Some people believe we at Ford are obsessive about this, and I guess it’s true. We believe in honing every detail of a chassis and steering system. That attention to detail is what will separate a Ford Focus from its competitors.”
Ford’s doctor of driving lives near Moenchengladbach, Germany, which is conveniently positioned for him to commute to the office or the proving ground. One of the most enjoyable aspects of his role is a mix of behind-the-wheel driving and theoretical engineering work.
On the track, he is clearly the master of more than just theory. He developed his skills as a test driver over more than a decade of work.
Kessing remembers having his bedroom plastered with car posters when he was 15 years old. He got his first car, a VW Scirocco, at 19, which was an important milestone. At university, he got exposed to test driving and started working on projects for Ford.
“Like many lads who start driving, I probably drove too fast at times,” Kessing said. “But as I studied and later became a university instructor, I became exposed to the disciplines involved in test driving. I recall taking instruction in 1996 from [three-time Formula 1 world champion] Jackie Stewart.”
Kessing’s first role with Ford was creating steering and handling simulation models for the CAE systems, work that continues to advance to this day. With the work of Kessing and others, testing procedures now involve extensive use of steering robots, which precisely replicate steering inputs time after time.
Kessing, who wanted an original Ford Mustang fastback, now, has a 17-year-old son who is fond of the same car. He and his wife also have a 14-year-old daughter.
Kessing said he’s known for being even-tempered and happy. “I don’t like to be in a bad mood,” he said.
That’s good, because one of his hobbies is boxing, which he likes for its mix of fitness-enhancing exercise and thinking. His colleagues needn’t worry – he only punches sandbags.
Personal Insights and Fun Facts
- Kessing’s garage holds a Ford Fiesta and a Ford S-MAX – vehicles that each have dynamic capabilities considered class-leading
- Bullitt is his favorite car movie
- Kessing enjoys strumming folk and soft rock music on the acoustic guitar. A favorite song is Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are
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About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 200,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company’s automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford’s products, please visit www.ford.com .
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