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Playing it cool — winter tests in Sweden with MAN

Snow, ice and temperatures as low as -35°C are ideal conditions for test runs, as trucks and buses must function perfectly no matter how extreme the conditions. Both MAN trucks as well as MAN and NEOPLAN buses undergo endurance testing in Sweden. A day on the test track.

MAN engineer during the winter test

Emergency braking on sheer ice

It is midday, at -26°C, ice crystals sparkle in the sun and the mood is upbeat in Arjeplog. With just four hours of daylight at most, every ray of sun tends to light up people’s faces. Or could the flawless execution of testing the emergency braking system have something to do with it? Legislation states that from 2015 this sytem will be compulsory for new truck and bus registrations.

Colleagues from the truck and bus divisions run the test program together and cross-check their results. Test engineer Andreas Witzgall watches intently, as a foam dummy the size of a car tail is pulled straight across the frozen lake at speeds between 40 and 80 kilometers per hour. As the following bus is moving some 20 to 30 kilometers per hour faster, the Advanced Emergency Brake System (AEBS) will eventually kick in – functioning as the electronic version of full braking. "We're working on total collision prevention", explains Witzgall.

MAN truck at the winter test
MAN tests a wide range of trucks in Sweden. Here, the cover is checked for proper fit.MAN tests a wide range of trucks in Sweden. Here, the cover is checked for proper fit.

Up to 1,200 kilometers behind the wheel each day

The MAN crew tests the vehicles not only on location, but also on the journey to it: before they reach Arjeplog the truck drivers have tested their vehicles over almost 3,000 kilometers. Their colleagues from the bus division begin their program at the ferry terminal in Gothenburg, 1,500 kilometers from their destination.

As the list of tests to be performed in the freezing climate and in special indoor refrigerated chambers is long, a multifunctional approach is taken rather than testing individual components: engine warm-up properties, exhaust gas after-treatment, lane changes, circuit laps, braking – or endurance testing, during which the drivers cover up to 1,200 kilometers every day over a period of four months, working in two shifts.

At the end of each winter test the entire team looks forward excitedly to the day when Bernd Maierhofer, Director of Research & Development at MAN Truck & Bus, and his Executive Management colleagues arrive to see for themselves that the vehicles are without exception fit for the road. This is everyone's shared goal: "The winter tests play an essential part in enabling us to provide our customers with robust and reliable vehicles", comments Jörg Junginger, Head of Bus Test Driving. His truck colleague Rainer Miksch backs him up: "Trials under extreme conditions are the vital real-life tests for future customer satisfaction."

Seven o’clock in the morning. The mercury has plummeted to -35°C but the test crew is well wrapped-up to withstand the intense cold. However, the same can’t be said for the control valves operating the coach door, which are frozen solid. Could this endanger the stringent testing schedule? Not at all. Untroubled, the MAN testing staff activates the emergency locking system and secures the door provisionally with straps. And off it goes! The man huddled over the steering wheel knows what to expect, and his response is as dry as the cold. “Such problems are precisely the reason why we are here,” says 31-year-old test engineer Sebastian Römer. And he knows: “In these extreme tests we find out how our buses will withstand the daily routines of our customers.” Winter tests are carried out to ensure that customers receive well-engineered products that function reliably even under extreme conditions. Because during the test phase any problems can be quickly resolved.

Trucks and buses put through the "Sweden test"

Muffled engine sounds rumble through the icy stillness. The heavy tractor-trailer unit slowly manoeuvres itself onto the test circuit. It takes off on smooth ice, accelerating to 30, 40, 50 kilometres per hour. The man behind the wheel steers the 40-tonner in a circle with a steady hand and, aided by the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), he forms a perfect partnership between man and machine. Any attempted breakaways are averted by gentle adjustments to the wheel – until, at 80 kilometres per hour, the laws of physics prevail and the trailer is jack-knifed. Looking pleased, Michael Ostermayer descends from the driver’s cab. As expected, the ESP worked perfectly.

Every year, MAN sends about 250 engineers, drivers and mechanics to the winter testing season, with 70 of them remaining on site for four months, including Römer and Ostermayer. They have both been part of the team for many years and are familiar with the test routes. No one is better acquainted with the testing ground than Michael Ostermayer, who was among the first to take MAN trucks and buses to Lapland for test drives. Between December and March a log cabin in Sweden becomes home to the drivers and technicians for four to six weeks. It is situated in Arjeplog, a village with around 3,000 residents in the province of Norbotten, better known as Lapland.

Endurance tests at -35°C: trucks and buses that have completed their trials here in Lapland are ready to hit the road. Besides mainly testing in Arjeplog, the MAN crew also utilizes the VW test centre in Slagnäs, 60 kilometers to the south.

MAN Bus in Winter Test

In Slagnäs the representatives of all the brands within the VW Group exchange their technological information. Buses undergo functional development testing in Arjeplog and are driven to the test track in Slagnäs, where the endurance runs are conducted. In particular the stop-and-go operation at extremely cold temperatures is an important test for later deployment in road traffic.

MAN employee Michael Ostermayer

Test driver Michael Ostermayer was one of the first to drive an MAN truck from Munich to the Arctic Circle in 1987: "In the early years we didn't even have a workshop of our own and had to work outside in temperatures down to minus 35°C."

MAN test engineer Andreas Witzgall

Bus testing under extreme conditions is designed to show where the emergency braking assistant reaches its limits. "We are running the same test program as our truck colleagues and compairing results", explains MAN test engineer Andreas Witzgall.

Test track in Arjeplog

The test center in Arjeplog is perfect for testing the ESP assistance system: The drivers steer the 40-tonne trucks skilfully over the track to test their stability as they are driven in a circle.

MAN employee filling the bus with winter diesel

Winter diesel is used to ensure that the engines function optimally even at 35 degrees below zero. Each time the bus is refueled it is ready for its next journey under extreme conditions.

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