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GM's World-Class Aerodynamics Capabilities Significantly Impact Fuel Economy

Warren, Mich. – General Motors’ aerodynamics capabilities significantly contributed to the 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe’s industry leading fuel economy. Using sophisticated computer-based tools and its state-of-the-art laboratory testing expertise, GM aerodynamics engineers have achieved the lowest aerodynamic drag of any full-size SUV in the world.

Aerodynamic drag accounts for approximately 20 percent of the energy consumed in an average vehicle, directly impacting vehicle fuel efficiency. GM aerodynamics engineers regularly are applying their expertise to address the opportunity to improve the fuel economy of all GM vehicles. In fact, GM offers more fuel efficient vehicles than any other manufacturer, in part due to its aerodynamic development capabilities.

GM’s aerodynamics laboratory, located at the technical center in Warren, Mich., is the center of expertise for optimizing the impact of airflow. In addition to fuel economy, range, emissions, and acceleration are all affected by wind resistance, or aerodynamic drag. The cooling of components such as radiators and brakes are affected by airflow, as is cornering capability, crosswind response, directional stability and on-center handling. GM’s aero lab allows for the testing and development of each of these characteristics.

Aerodynamics development begins with a 1/3-scale model where basic shape and major features are defined. The model includes a highly detailed underbody and engine compartment. Radiator and under hood cooling flow is developed with computational fluid dynamic models. Simultaneously, computation development takes place to determine aerodynamic drag of design alternatives. Development continues with full-scale models, where shape is refined and optimized for low wind noise. The development process concludes with a vehicle prototype validation of the math-based analysis and physical testing.

The 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe is one of the latest graduates of the aero lab. Engineers focused on the front and rear of the vehicle, the underbody, and mirrors to reduce drag by eight percent over the 2005 Tahoe.

“Everyone on the aerodynamics team is deeply committed to improving the fuel efficiency of every vehicle we develop,” said Max Schenkel, GM North America Engineering aerodynamics technical fellow. “We have continuously improved the aerodynamics of the Chevrolet Tahoe over the last several years and remain committed to maintaining its aerodynamics leadership.”

Founded in the late 1970s, GM’s aerodynamics laboratory was built in response to fuel shortages of that time and the introduction of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards. Test operations began in 1980 with several production vehicle tests that benchmarked the wind tunnel’s performance against other facilities. All new GM vehicles for the North American market have been developed using the lab. Today, the experimental work in the aero lab is supplemented by computational fluid dynamics analysis. The combination of the two testing operations provides a powerful tool to improve aerodynamics of future GM vehicles.

Wind speed in the tunnel can reach up to more than 120 miles-per-hour. Real-time data acquisition and display systems measure forces and moments, airflow velocities, pressures, temperatures and wind noise.

In addition to helping GM create today’s most fuel efficient vehicles, wind tunnel testing has provided a competitive advantage for GM racing vehicles. Several GM sponsored teams also have taken advantage of the wind tunnel, including America ’s Cup challengers, Sunrayce solar cars, bicycle racers, the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and the Canadian Alpine Ski Team.

The GM Aerodynamics Laboratory celebrated 25 years of wind tunnel test operations in August. The lab was the first full-scale automotive wind tunnel built in North America and remains the largest wind tunnel in the world dedicated to automotive testing.