Volvo winter testing
Volvo winter testing. Click image to enlarge

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By Chad Heard

Advertising Feature — Deep in the Swedish Lapland you’ll find the township of Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle. It’s in this winter wonderland that the Volvo Car Corporation has been testing its vehicles since the 1960s and verifying every system works in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius. For Volvo, extreme winter testing is not only a requirement for its vehicles, it’s expected by Swedish customers.

“Extreme winter climate is probably the toughest test to which one can subject a car” says Jan Inge Eliasson, head of the Complete Vehicles Testing department at Volvo Cars. “The stresses on the engine, steering, climate unit and other systems are immense. As far as I know, we are alone in carrying out tests down to -40 degrees. The reason is our Scandinavian heritage. Both we and our customers impose extra demands on us since we come from Sweden.”

This dedication stems from the company’s dedication to safety. Volvo engineers must ensure the vehicle creates an environment and interior climate that keeps the driver alert and comfortable for long periods of time. Maintaining visibility is also critical, as is steering and braking in severe snowstorms and on black ice. Should the worst happen, the vehicle’s protective safety systems – such as air bags and seat belts – must work reliably, even when it’s extremely cold.

For Eliasson and his team, the winter test season stretches from December to April. During this period, vehicles circulate test tracks and cruise public highways for up to 200,000 kilometres, the equivalent to driving five times round the world. The tests are carried out by a team of local drivers and Volvo test engineers. The team, composed of both male and female test drivers of varying ages, is tasked with identifying and reporting any faults.

Volvo winter testing
Volvo winter testing. Click image to enlarge

“All testing takes place as close to the customer’s everyday reality as possible,” says Eliasson. “And even if most Volvo customers never come into contact with this type of extreme climate, the car has to be ready on what may well be the one day a year when the snow suddenly blankets everything.”

While Volvo engineers rely heavily on the natural conditions of their cold weather testing facility, sometimes equipment is used to create predictable patterns. For example, Volvo Cars employs refrigerator containers for cold start testing. The vehicle is parked inside overnight at thirty degrees below zero. The next morning, the doors are forced open and the engine is started.

The company can also reproduce artificial snow storms and extreme temperatures in wind tunnels and computer simulations. However, the effectiveness of the laboratory tests has its limits.

“The advantage of laboratories is that the tests are predictable and repeatable,” says Thomas Persson, head of technology and systems engineering for climate systems for Volvo Cars. “However, there is a danger too. We generally say that the wind tunnel reveals the answers we are looking for. Out on the open road, however, we find answers to questions we never even asked.”

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