They are tasked to match tests as closely as possible with real customer situations. This is why, although they receive certain instructions on which items and functions are to be tested in one shift, the “how” is left largely up to them. The options for completing the questionnaires are similarly individual. One element of the checklists is, incidentally, “stress tests”.
Examples of this include the repeated activation and deactivation of electronic systems while stationary and driving, untypical usage such as windscreen wiper operation when it’s not raining, parallel operation of the vehicle by both driver and passenger, simultaneous operation of multiple applications, or simply checking system reaction to a CD being inserted into the slot upside down.
The majority of these test drives, including all stress tests, are carried out on the Audi proving grounds close to Ingolstadt. The program also includes, however, evaluation drives on public roads, with preferred test areas being centres of urban population. These locations are often subject to the effects of extensive radio interference and highly concentrated mobile communication networks. These evaluations help to establish whether such disruptive signals have a negative effect on vehicle electronics. In the course of all these tests, the customer remains the focal point.
Testing any vehicle demands that market and customer-specific issues be addressed. Legal requirements, infrastructure such as filling nozzles at fuel stations, fuel quality and customer habits vary from country to country. Nevertheless all these demands must be met.
Heike Biebl-Walther heads up testing for North America at Audi. “Vehicle requirements vary a great deal across the different markets,” she says. “That is why it is important to take these requirements into account at an early stage in the vehicle development process.”
The US market will be one of the most important sales regions for the Q7. Therefore, the vehicle has also been, and is still being, tested intensively there. Everyday vehicle functionality across diverse operating circumstances is of fundamental importance to customers. It is for this reason that a great deal of worth is put on intuitive operating logic, appealing haptic and ergonomic handling, such as the ease of folding and erecting the third row of seats.
The scope of an SUV’s service is extremely broad, extending from the short off-road stretch to reach the weekend cabin in the Appalachian Mountains on the east coast, all the way to a beach holiday on California’s Venice Beach. There are also an increasing number of American women who are attracted to this particular class of vehicle. They use it to take the kids to school or to make the short trip to the shopping centre.
Biebl-Walther offers one example of typical American driving habits. “Many Americans spend considerably more time in their vehicles than us Europeans,” she explains. “In the case of long commutes, for example, it’s quite normal to eat breakfast in your car. For this reason, features such as storage facilities, power outlets or cup holders take on a whole new significance for the driver. In the Q7, these requirements have been comprehensively addressed.”
A further example of the diversity of customer requirements is the value put on vehicle infotainment by those who frequently make long-distance journeys in the USA with the Q7.
Alongside the FM signal common in Germany, customers in the USA and Canada also use medium wave and satellite radio. “While satellite radio has, so far, not been available in Europe, this technology is already standard in the USA,” says Biebl-Walther. “We are carrying out customer simulation tests on these systems throughout North America, for function, ease of use and quality of reception.”
Driver selection is particularly important in simulating the customer as closely as possible. “Average” American drivers are the order of the day. These test drivers must complete questionnaires and be prepared to have their driving profiles logged on board the vehicles, and data streams from measuring devices recorded. These data are later evaluated against the broadest possible criteria.
Across the USA from east to west, Audi Q7 models are continuously being put through this sort of testing in order to ensure that they also function perfectly in customer hands, be it in scorching heat, freezing cold, choking dust and equally choking traffic.
In parallel with the development process, the USA is also host to regular sign-off drives, on which the Board of Directors and top management of AUDI AG put the vehicles through a comprehensive check-up. On one occasion this actually included taking the Q7 through its paces on the 4,300 metre high Pikes Peak. It was this very mountain that inspired the name of the Audi concept car, which signalled the start of the Q7 at the 2003 Detroit Motor Show.Published 2 August 2005