First, What Is Black Lake?
It sounds ominous, like a secret government site that's whispered about by conspiracy theorists and whose existence is disputed on obscure subreddits. But it's real and, turns out, incredibly exciting.
Black Lake is part of the Milford Proving Grounds, the largest car testing site in the world, tucked away in a lush suburb of Detroit. It's a stretch of asphalt measuring 59 football fields, where GM puts its cars through high-speed tests on surfaces that simulate some of the most dangerous driving conditions. With such a vast amount of paved space, engineers can perform lane-changing and spin-out maneuvers without worrying that they'll run out of track. There's also a set of ceramic tiles that, when wet, take on the same texture as ice under car wheels.
Sweet heads to Black Lake to meet with two Chevrolet Vehicle Performance Engineers, testing the StabiliTrak safety standard on the 2016 Chevy Cruze Premier and the 2016 Chevy Cruze LT RS.
Meet Your Drivers
Shanley Carlton, 23: "I graduated a year ago from the University of Alabama. I got into engineering right out of high school after I took a physics class, not really knowing what engineering was. The more I got into it, the more I loved it. I came up to Detroit after my freshman year for an internship with GM. I loved Detroit, and I started getting really into the car scene here."
Costi Shami, 25: "I got into engineering basically when I was in Kindergarten. My dad and uncle have a gas station repair shop. I was working on cars there all the time, always tinkering with stuff. I decided to pursue mechanical engineering at Duke. I really enjoyed all the classwork, but I was also involved with Formula SAE, an intercollegiate competition where you build a race car. I interned at GM, and then started full-time here."
What Is StabiliTrak?
This is Chevy's name for the standard electronic stability system in its cars. "It started with anti-lock brakes," Carlton explains. "Then engineers added on other functions when they realized they could control corner pressure, and help keep a car from spinning out on the road by applying brake pressure in just the right spot. StabiliTrak was mainstreamed in the '90s, and the government began requiring it on vehicles as a standard technology within the last five years."
Carlton's ready to take these Chevy Cruzes for a *spin.*
"We have to put the car through its paces," Shami says. "When we're done, the tires are worn, the brakes are smoking, but it means we've done our job. The goal is to get the car as stable as possible with the stability system on."
The Double Lane Change
Shami runs us through one of the most basic, and most important, maneuvers in the 2016 Chevy Cruze.
The basic premise: Something jumps out at you in the middle of the highway, so you have to swerve around it, and then get back in your lane.
Without StabiliTrak on, this is not a maneuver I would handle well.
"In Europe, they call it the elk test or the moose test," Shami says. "The goal is to tune our system to get through the event as quickly as possible." The cones represent highway lanes, and without the stability system on, it's nearly impossible to stay within the lanes.
A smoother ride. No cones hit! "I just showed you what it was like to max out the tires laterally," Carlton says. "That's why you hear the tires squealing."
The Ice Patch
Here, Shami takes us onto tiles in Black Lake that have been wetted to simulate ice patch conditions.
The brakes are pumpin'. The car's not spinnin'.
Learn more about the testing that keeps us safe on the road at chevrolet.com.