Volvo's Scandinavian heritage and industry-leading test framework create the foundations for one of the world's safest winter cars, so that customers can rely on Volvo everywhere, irrespective of climate and road conditions. That is why Volvo's cars are tested under the most extreme conditions from Arizona's blisteringly hot desert to the biting cold of the Arctic north.
"Our cars have to be able to withstand ambient temperatures between -40 and +60 degrees C. Our aim is to create the best possible car for all climates," says Jan Inge Eliasson, head of the Complete Vehicles Testing department at Volvo Cars.
This requirement applies to the entire car, down to the very smallest detail. A Volvo consists of about 40 main systems such as the engine, climate unit, seats and so on. These are divided into 400 subsystems such as the starter motor, fan, seat heaters and others, which in turn consist of a total of about 3000 components, everything from sensors to heating circuits.
Systems and components must guarantee thousands of different functions so that, for example, the seat can be moved forwards and backwards, the fan delivers the right amount of power and the windscreen wipers operate at the set intervals.
In addition to these basic functions, the car also has a long list of attribute requirements to live up to and it is here that the temperatures come into the picture. A requirement may read something like: "When starting at -20 degrees, it should take a fixed amount of minutes for the windscreen to be demisted", or "When driving at -15 degrees, there should be a certain specified difference in temperature between the head and feet".
"Extreme winter climate is probably the toughest test which a car can be subjected to. 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," relates Jan Inge Eliasson.
The entire test period follows a carefully designed programme and if the natural conditions aren't tough enough, refrigerator containers are brought in to do the job. The car can be parked inside overnight at 30 degrees below zero. The next morning, the doors are forced open and the engine is cold-started from scratch and it has to be ready for the day's tests.
"The big challenge lies in getting all the systems to function faultlessly together. The cold slows down the locking systems and various displays, the snow penetrates and blocks filters, ice covers the windows and lamps. All this and much more has to be dealt with to meet the tough demands that are imposed, not least as regards safety," continues Jan Inge Eliasson.
Safety-related work in the snow and cold takes place on several levels. The car has to guarantee a driver's environment and an interior climate that keeps the driver refreshed and alert for long periods of time. Visibility has to be ensured as must steering and braking ability, even in severe snowstorms and with the dangers of black ice. What is more, four-wheel drive and safety systems that come into action in critical situations must function with exactly the right degree of feel.