If you drive some 900 km north of Stockholm and the weather is right, you may experience the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and the Midnight Sun as well as moose and other exotic wildlife. From January to April or so, you are also likely to encounter the odd Jaguar.
Or BMW, FIAT, Mercedes, Volvo, Peugeot, Hyundai or Toyota. With temperatures in the minus 30 to 40o C range most European and Asian manufacturers of cars and trucks, winter tires, batteries and other automotive products have ample opportunities to challenge, test and optimize their products.
The first, rather humble winter tests were conducted in the 1970s. Now, half a century later, these pioneering tests have evolved into a hundred million euro industry with some 1,300 employees, not counting the considerable seasonal workforce. Around 30 different testing grounds are scattered around the Swedish Norrbotten region, most of them in and around the communities of Arvidsjaur, Jokkmokk, and Älvsbyn.
Ice, potholes, and torque slopes
The testing and proving activities have gradually evolved since the 1970s, and vehicles are often camouflaged to minimize any premature or unwanted revelations to competitors and media.
Initially, the action was entirely focused on the icy lakes. Now you can for example find “split tracks” with partially heated asphalt roads, tracks with challenging potholes, and outright murderous “torque slopes”.
Germany’s leading car and truck manufacturers in particular are frequently spotted on and around the many frozen lakes between Arjeplog and Arvidsjaur. The less than 5,000 inhabitants of Arvidsjaur have to work hard to accommodate some of the 30,000 incoming drivers, mechanics, test engineers, and motor journalists.
Arvidsjaur even has a small local airport, and during the winter season there are regular shuttle flights to and from Stuttgart and other German car metropoles.
Electrification makes winter performance an even more critical issue for the car industry
For obvious reasons, electrification makes winter performance and reliability an even more critical issue for the car industry. This is also reflected in the local testing and proving industry’s positive outlook and, indeed, the development plans for the communities involved. Now that the infrastructure is in place, some tire manufacturers are also conducting tests here during the summer months.
Other winter test sites around the world
The Swedish concentration of winter testing facilities is more impressive than most but it is by no means unique. Proving and testing facilities are also established in Finland as well as North America and Japan.
Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Smithers Winter Test Center (SWTC) is a world-class facility ideal for testing and conducting performance evaluations on vehicles, tires and components under the special challenges of extreme cold and hazardous road conditions.