The Freightliner Group unveiled a new Durability Test Center facility yesterday at its proving grounds near South Bend, IN, where it also announced that electronic stability control (ESC), the next step in the company's active safety technology, will be available on some Class 8 vehicles later in the year.

The truck maker has committed $2.5 million to the development and construction of the 24,600-sq. ft. building, which houses state-of-the-art equipment for servicing test vehicles, as well as offices for the Freightliner Group Test Engineering staff.

According to Ramin Younessi, chief test engineer, the primary purpose of the South Bend proving grounds is to put vehicles through “accelerated durability testing.” In order to evaluate the structural integrity and reliability of every component, vehicles are put through eight different events. Conditions on the “torture track” are so severe that every mile driven on it is equivalent to about 83 miles in real-world operation.

After vehicles have been put through their paces on the test tracks, engineers do a systematic wear-and-tear analysis at the new service facility, using “the latest computer hardware and software tools for diagnosing and recalibrating vehicles,” according to Freightliner.

The structure includes a 45-ft. drive-over servicing pit, eight drive-through bays, three overhead cranes, and a parts storage area.

Also at the South Bend press event, Michael von Mayenburg, senior vp of engineering & technology, announced that production of vehicles with ESC will begin later in the year, with full production slated for early 2006.

ESC, which was developed in cooperation with Meritor WABCO, is what Freightliner calls its “next step in active safety.” Based on the company's Roll Advisor & Control system (RAC), ESC goes one step further in increasing vehicle stability by controlling tractor and trailer yaw rate on the road.

Von Mayenburg says the system can “compare the driver's steering input command with a vehicle's response.” If the tractor-trailer is not responding appropriately, ESC can correct it by “individually applying wheel brakes at the appropriate corners of the vehicle to rotate it, thus correcting its actual path to match the driver's request.”

According to von Mayenburg, while ESC will cost more than RAC, it will still be “highly affordable.”