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DEARBORN, MI-Ford Motor Co. opened a new $16-million safety-testing facility in the city this week, part of a $65-million effort to cut costs in vehicle production and to get new models to market faster. Ford, which now takes about 28 months to get a vehicle to market once the design is complete, wants to trim that number down to 19 months by mid-2007, says Phil Martens, Ford vice president for product creation.

Ford says the new safety-testing lab near its Dearborn headquarters has one of the most advanced crash simulators in the world. The simulator consists of a vehicle interior set inside a rigid frame and attached to a fast-moving hydraulic sled. The simulator allows Ford to see what would happen to the interior of a vehicle in five different types of crashes–including frontal and side impact–without actually having to destroy an expensive prototype vehicle. The new safety lab facility is part of the company’s current $65-million investment in advanced vehicle testing technology.

Other facets of the vehicle testing upgrades include a Volvo Arizona Proving Grounds. Ford relaunched its proving grounds in Whitman, AZ last year with a $10-million investment. New and advanced features include a 36-bay garage, 2.1-mile straightaway, steering and handling course, lane-change pad, 200-foot vehicle dynamics circle and mini-ride roads.

The Dearborn Proving Ground is also undergoing extensive renovation for an all-new track with advanced testing technology. Details will be announced at a later date; and some 8,000 Ford design engineers now have walkie-talkie style mobile phones and wireless laptop computers, increasing mobility between their office and test track, which are equipped with wireless Internet connectivity.

Martens says Ford began testing its new development process with the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan, which will be in showrooms this fall. The company took about 25 months to develop the base model of the Fusion, he says.

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