Vauxhall Insignia Touches Down, Drives Away

The Tower of London provided appropriate backdrop to the rousing introduction of the Vauxhall Insignia.

Freed from a suspended capsule nearly 15 stories up, the silver sedan plummeted toward the ground at 17 miles per hour. With gravity seemingly in control, the Earth appeared to be all that would stop the car’s rapid descent.

But just as it seemed the sparkling-new vehicle would be put through yet another crash test, a complex brake system engaged and brought the car to a halt, peacefully suspended less than 10 feet above the ground.

And with that, the 2009 Vauxhall Insignia was unveiled – and McLaren Engineering Group again demonstrated its ability to bring spectacular, gravity-defying ideas to life. Hired by Production Resource Group in April, McLaren engineered the drop machinery system for the Insignia’s unique launch, which took place in London yesterday in anticipation of today’s British International Motor Show.

McLaren developed the engineering approaches, ran the physics models, analyzed and selected the machine components and structural elements, and developed the design and detail drawings for this once-in-a-lifetime special event. The firm is no stranger to rousing car introductions, as it engineered an SUV’s vertical climb up a 414-foot building at 2 Penn Plaza in 2005.

The mechanical system, which controlled the car during its 148-foot drop, consisted of a payout winch, a clutched retract winch, thirteen large brakes (seven of which were precision servo-controlled), a support frame, catwalk, and car support platform. All of the equipment was custom-made for an engineering feat never before attempted: modulating the otherwise uncontrolled descent of a car using an elaborate braking system.

When the Insignia was released from the capsule, the brakes held back against the descent, while still letting it drop very quickly. Then, the brake calipers clamped down on the almost 200-pound vented brake disc (already spinning at roughly 2000 RPM), further decelerating the car until it stopped.

The Car Drop represented the climax of Vauxhall’s sizeable marketing scheme for the Insignia. Prior to the car’s fall, Vauxhall had developed a subplot surrounding the capsule – or “orb” – in which it had been discovered over the weekend, presumably crash landed adjacent to the Tower of London in England’s Potter’s Field. As part of the mock recovery effort, a nearby construction crane hoisted the orb into the air, just as the media and a select audience arrived on the scene.

“We are very proud of the Insignia and decided that an extraordinary car needed an extraordinary entrance,” said Alain Visser, the Chief Marketing Officer for GM Europe, after driving the newly revealed Insignia onto the presentation stage.

Click here to view a YouTube video of the Car Drop.