Volvo V70
The Volvo V70's Tough Winter Testing Programme

Nothing can replace reality

Winter testing takes place late in a product's test cycle, using pre-series cars that look and function exactly like the final model. However, the test process actually gets under way long before this, first via computer simulations, later on in laboratories: Volvo's wind tunnels, for instance, can create full snowstorm conditions indoors.

"The advantage of laboratories is that the tests are predictable and repeatable. 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," says Thomas Persson, head of technology & systems engineering for climate systems.

One example is the shark fin-shaped antenna on the new Volvo S80. Winter tests revealed that a string of snow and ice formed in its wake on the rear window. The reason was the constant air turbulence that the antenna created, which the rear window's heating elements were unable to combat by keeping the glass free from snow and ice.

"We did not pick up on this in our laboratory tests. Only real-life driving situations and weather conditions can reveal this type of detail," explains Thomas Persson.

As a result of this discovery, the rear window heater is now switched on automatically in cold weather instead of being activated manually by the driver as before. A current pulse in the rear window heater elements was created and optimised, in terms of both effect and frequency.

"Just as in the case of the antenna, most of the changes we make are not noticed by the customer. And that's exactly the way it should be. For us, our reward comes later, when we meet the car on a cold winter's day and we know that the car's occupants are sitting in comfort and safety in their Volvo," says Thomas Persson.

Decades of Arctic Assessments

Volvo Cars started testing its cars in extreme cold temperatures in Swedish Lapland back in the 1960s – long before other manufacturers. Today the company has a modern proving ground just outside Kiruna (Northern Sweden, within the Arctic Circle). There and in the surrounding area all Volvo's car models are put through rigorous tests with all the specification and equipment alternatives that the factory offers its customers.

The winter test season stretches from December to April. During this period, 200,000 kilometres are covered on the test track and public highways, equivalent to driving about five times round the world.

The tests are carried out jointly by Volvo's test engineers and local test drivers, with a mix of both male and female drivers, all of different ages and with different amounts of car driving experience. Their task is to identify and report on any faults they discover before the customers do.

"All testing takes place as close to the customer's everyday reality as possible. 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," says Jan Inge Eliasson.

Published : 21/01/08 Author : Melanie Carter

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