Alice Springs is the new motoring mecca for testing
RED dust, rocks and ruts, baking heat and corrugated roads tracking to the horizon have turned Alice Springs into a new motoring mecca.
Test teams from South Korea, America and China have all been drawn to The Alice recently to punish their upcoming showroom stars ahead of customer deliveries.
Engineers from Aston Martin in the UK also passed through last year during hot-weather trials for their DB11 sports car.
Ford and Holden might still have their Aussie proving grounds behind giant security fences outside Melbourne - Lang Lang for Holden, You Yangs for Ford - but a growing number of carmakers are going way out west for access to the worst of Australia's road conditions.
"Australia presents some incredibly unique driving environments," says the program manager for the new Jeep Wrangler, John Adams.
Alice Springs was a test destination for Porsche in the 1990s when the attraction was the unlimited speeds available on the Stuart Highway that runs north to Darwin, but things have changed.
Now it's all about hot weather tests, durability running, and reliability checks on a huge range of future models.
Chinese brands are sneaking prototypes into the outback and but it's the mainstream makers that are seeing a big benefit.
Hyundai includes Alice Springs on the global development program for almost all of its new vehicles, focusing on hot-weather checks on everything from the i30 to the Santa Fe.
"At the moment there are 13 different cars in the country for testing, all future models and all running with full disguise. It's now a regular part of our program," says Hyundai Australia spokesman, Bill Thomas.
"The engineers come once a year because they want to hit the hottest weather. With the Sonata, they covered around 8000 kilometres on unmade roads for durability testing.
"They are going to the worst roads in the country, and pretty much the worst on the planet, because they want to get the cars right."
Ford used off-road tracks and rugged dirt roads, similar to conditions for the Finke Desert Race near The Alice, during final tweaking of the Ranger Raptor, its new high-performance off-roader.
"We ran our durability testing around Alice Springs. The conditions are incredibly tough," says Jamal Hameedi, the global head of Ford Performance.
"I was in Australia with the Raptor. I wanted to see the conditions for myself. We were developing a high-speed off-road vehicle."
For Jeep, the attractions at The Alice are obvious for development of the JL Wrangler that returns to Australia for showroom sales later in the year.
"Explicitly, we were looking at the effect of Australia's corrugated roads on long-range and high-speed drives which are common for much of the country's population outside of the cities," says John Adams.
"We understand there's an expectation from the Australian market that their vehicles are appropriately tuned to the country's unique driving conditions and it's for that reason we initiated the program to investigate if there's anything we could be doing differently when it comes to delivering the Wrangler for Australia."