Cold weather driving
Automakers travel thousands of kilometres to cold-weather test

Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 10/98) - Porsche, Volvo and Ford are among the motor companies that have rolled into the NWT in the past to expose their vehicles to the harsh northern climate to conduct cold weather tests.

Each winter Volvo for one ships several of its latest models, worth between $40,000 and $50,000 each from Sweden to Phoenix, Arizona where warm weather testing is conducted.

These high-end automobiles are then transported on a flat bed from Phoenix through the United States, across the Canadian border, over the 60th parallel and into Yellowknife stopping over in other Western Arctic communities along the way.

„We come because it¼s cold up there,¾ said a spokesperson for Volvo at their office in Arizona. The man requested that he not be identified. He said it¼s important for Volvo to keep their cold-weather testing operation as low key as possible and avoid all publicity.

While in the North, usually in January and February, a team of engineers put their Swedish models through a series of rigorous tests. Vehicles are left in the cold, driven over icy, frost-bitten roads. With temperatures between -28 and -40 Celsius, the automobiles are checked whether such things as rubber door seals, gas shocks and electronic components can withstand the bitter cold.

Porsche is another car company that frequents the North annually. Their automobiles, usually painted in shades of black and white and dressed in bras and cloths to throw off potential automobile spies hoping to catch a glimpse of their latest model, are put through similar tests as Volvo¼s products.

Ford used to test it¼s vehicles in the North but two years moved to Thompson, Manitoba. Ultimately, the decision was based on things such as which of the cities had a good infrastructure and which were within a day¼s trip of the company¼s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. It takes about eight hours to get to Thompson from Dearborn. Cost of living was also a factor.

Kingland Ford¼s general manager, Spencer King in Hay River doesn¼t put too much weight on cold-weather testing.

„They got to live in the environment in order to understand it,¾ said Spencer King. „A lot of them are book smart, like engineers, they¼re smart that way but to go and live in the environment at try and understand it. I think they have their difficulties too.¾