Right up in the far north of Europe, winter offers the optimal prerequisites for car manufacturers to test vehicles under extreme conditions. For this reason, the brand with the four rings is also attracted to the Swedish part of Lapland each year during this season. Short summers and long, harsh winters with icy temperatures define the region. The public streets are almost empty; only rarely does another vehicle appear on the other side of the road, disappearing quickly again in the rear-view mirror. In the winter months, the snow blankets everything in cotton wool and naturally dulls the background noise. Endless forests are criss-crossed by lakes, which, depending on the weather, can already carry a remarkable layer of ice in the autumn. If this is thick and compact enough, the time for test drives under extreme conditions begins. Because even if this area is picture-perfect in good weather, it can be quite uncomfortable in Europe’s far north when strong winds drive the snow before them, or the night-time temperatures sink below –30° Celsius. But it is precisely these extremes that make Lapland such a thrilling test site. Pushing the limits to ensure the best possible quality.
During this phase, the isolation of being in the middle of nowhere in Sweden brings with it a number of advantages: the technology of a modern vehicle is now highly complex, and all components must work together in unison. In order to achieve this goal, exchange and cooperation between the relevant departments is important. Lapland offers the optimal conditions for an efficient cooperation – starting with the test drive and ending with analysis of successive drives as a countercheck.
By the time the first electric model from the brand with the four rings appears on the market at the end of the year, around 250 prototypes will have completed test drives across a total of four continents. Not only in the cold of Scandinavia, but also in the heat of Africa, in the mountainous reaches of Asia, on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife, in stop–start traffic in Chinese metropolises or on American highways. As a result, a wide variety of situations and temperature ranges are covered, from as little as –20 to a whopping +50 degrees Celsius. In addition, intensive tests are conducted worldwide for the charging technology – an important security criterion for battery electric models. In this case, the individual charging standards are evaluated on test sites and in public spaces so as to ensure the full gamut of the various charging possibilities in this area.
Various test tracks are available to the developers for testing purposes: both on the ice and on adjacent routes on land. There, all scenarios relating to the behaviour and handling of the vehicle can be played out – whether when pulling off, braking or during the journey. Occasionally the developers steer the prototypes across the test tracks at high speed. Drifts with swirling snow included. Never a product of chance, but planned precision work. ‘Sometimes during the drives, we purposefully push right to the limit so as to play out all eventualities,’ explains Ferdinand Hartinger, technical developer for the chassis. ‘This also means that thresholds are reached that exceed driving behaviour in normal road traffic.’ While the open area of circle testing on the lake would permit wide evasive manoeuvres across the specified route in the event of an emergency, on land, you need to keep to the predetermined lane as precisely as possible, which, for security reasons, is bordered by deep walls of snow.
To see and experience that the systems work even under challenging conditions is a special moment for the developers. ‘It must be said that the testing in Lapland is weirdly fun. This is exactly why we develop the systems – to facilitate a safe driving experience even under challenging conditions, and thus also promote driving pleasure,’ states Moritz Reiff, project coordinator drive functions for the quattro with e-tron technology.
‘As soon as we notice that the vehicle is not driving harmoniously in given situations, we reset that situation. If all measurements for the respective driving manoeuvres are logged, these will be analysed and discussed in our department with the appropriate experts. Due to the complexity of the control devices, of course, the project is always overseen by several experts. If the problem is detected, we can quickly program new software versions and install them in the vehicle. We then run through the drive again and the package is optimally defined.’
‘The electric engines have a much higher actuator speed compared to combustion engines. In other words, the time wherein the electric engine can generate torque is reached almost without any delay. For the field of chassis development, this means more degrees of freedom. Torque can be distributed more quickly and system interventions performed. We have developed new control system functions in the vehicle so that the performance of the drives is optimally used and can, for example, therefore be powerfully driven off from stationary on ice without much slipping. The tyres gain grip faster and regulate precisely along the slip threshold.’
The first fully electric series model from Audi allows fast charging with a capacity of up to 150 kilowatts and is therefore suitable for long distances again after half an hour of charging time. In order to be able to test charging with 150 kilowatts in extreme cold, there is an appropriate charging station on the site. ‘We are very pleased with the results of the tests here on-site. Even at very low temperatures, battery reliability can be guaranteed,’ concludes Andreas Birk.
On the test site, a team of around 35 people ensures the optimal testing conditions. Sometimes with heavy equipment, the tracks are prepared around the clock if necessary. The safety of the local team and the travelling test drivers takes top priority here. Track expert Lenny provides an insight into which conditions are needed for the perfect ice.