It is the end of March and the brilliant sun reflects off the thick layer of snow covering all the surroundings. One by one eleven trucks and busses make their way onto a parking space on the outskirts of a tiny town in Sweden – it is their first stop on this year's Volkswagen Truck & Bus cold climate test driving event. As they dismount from the trucks and busses, the Chief Technical Officers and their teams immediately gravitate towards the MAN bus which carries snacks and, more importantly, hot coffee. At minus 13 degrees Celsius the hot beverage is most welcome: The participants cluster together and exchange their opinions on the vehicles they have just been driving they get into the next vehicle to try out. On this and the following day the CTOs of the Volkswagen Truck & Bus Group, MAN, Scania, Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus and alliance partner Navistar will have the chance to try out the latest models and technology features of their own as well as all the other brands. "This event is about several things. One is the social element – to get to know each other better because it improves cooperation. But, more importantly, it is about getting to know the products from all the brands", explains Claes Erixon, CTO at Scania.
After the refreshments the trucks and busses drive back onto the icy road. The weather is ideal for testing the vehicles' behavior in extreme conditions. It is not by coincidence that Volkswagen Truck & Bus conducts this event here. The region is famous for its reliably harsh winters. Located less than 100 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, the remote area is a hot spot for automakers and suppliers looking to test their latest models and technology. In the peak season between January and March the population doubles as 3,000 engineers from 30 companies arrive to take advantage of the countless frozen lakes and roads covered by thick layers of ice.
The history of car testing can be traced back to the 70s, when the first automotive manufacturers started testing on the lakes. While these early pioneers had limited resources, and little in the way of technical back-up, winter testing is now an important business in the region: a major contributor to the local economy and a key staging post in the development of a wide range of automotive technologies.
MAN and Scania have been running their winter tests here for years. Since 2017, however, all the brands of the Volkswagen Truck & Bus Group have been conducting their long lists of tests – from cold-starting to breaking behavior – on the same site. After months of rigorous testing the results are jointly presented to the Volkswagen Truck & Bus board. "This is one of the highlights of the year. We get the results and get to know where we stand. But it is also an occasion to celebrate the hard work done by the people here over the last few months", says the CTO of the Volkswagen Truck & Bus Group, Anders Nielsen.
The joint testing shop allows for discussion and exchange even though testing is done separately by the brands. The CTO’s goal is to exchange ideas and identify possible synergies. "Any time you actually get to go on the road and drive the products is fantastic. What's really cool is that we get to look at each of the trucks in these conditions and see how they perform and notice the differences. But also the similarities because in the end we all try to do the same thing which is to take care of the customers", says Eric Tech, Senior Vice President of Navistar.
After a few more stops and changing of vehicles the teams meet up to discuss the day's drive. Each participant got an iPad at the beginning of the day. With this they were able to rate their driving experience and log their comments. "We share our thoughts on different solutions and our findings", says Frederik Zohm, CTO with MAN Truck & Bus.
For the participants of the event it is not only a fun day out of the office. The personal experience with the vehicles clearly adds another dimension in interpreting this years' winter test and talking about further improvements. "We get the possibility to experience first-hand what the development progress of the new products is and to exchange experiences. It also strengthens the team spirit", explains Rodrigo Chaves, CTO of Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus. Overall the CTOs and their teams happily look back on two successful days in the winter wonder land of the Swedish Lapland and already look forward to meeting here again next year.