Norrbotten is today a world leading region for testing cars and components in cold climates. Rather than sit back and be happy with pole position, the test industy keeps innovating and moving forward.
-The business sector, public sector and universities in the region, with an important link to the research and development, all have important roles to play. Together we are an unbeatable cluster. Clearly there will be new business opportunities ahead now that we expand, says Sture Lestander, former chairman of the Swedish Proving Ground Association (SPGA). We met Sture and took the opportunity to ask some questions about the expansive car testing industry.
Tell us about SPGA and your business.
Here in Norrbotten, we have been working with car testing since the early 1970s. It started with some engineers from Bosch and Mercedes who came here to test ABS-brakes on ice. In Kiruna, they heard about the flying club in Arjeplog, who plowed a track on the river ice. They drove down here to check it out, and the rest, as they say, is history. From the very beginning they took help from locals, shovelling the ice every day. It was the beginning of IceMaker, founded by David Sundstrom. Since then, the test industry has grown and developed, with many successful companies in a unique cluster: Colmis, Cartes, Slagnäs and Tjintokk, Galtis, Arctic Falls are just a few examples.
SPGA formed in the early 2000s by 9 companies in the testing industry. We needed coordination and cooperation and the need to manage the testing companies’ common issues towards authorities and other actors. Issues related to competence and education, research and development, contacts with universities in the region and the like.
What factors led to Bosch & Mercedes choice of Arjeplog and their decision to stay?
As it so often is, coincidences provides opportunities. In Arjeplog they met dedicated people, who wanted to be involved in solving practical problems and ultimately develop the business. Furthermore, the climate is right, the region is sparsely populated and gives the opportunity to work in peace, without prying eyes.
Today, the turnover of the car testing-industry is about 1 billion Swedish kronor during an intense 4-5 month period. At the same time Arjeplog also receive a surplus of about 3-4000 engineers from around the world. Arjeplog has evolved into the world’s single largest region for car and component testing in cold climate.
Which customers use SPGAs testing facility?
Over 100 brands are represented: it covers all the major car manufacturers from all over the world. The testing industry has a positive impact on the local community. In Slagnäs, the accommodation facility Tjintokk employs 400 people during peak season – 200 jobs annually. The hotel is located in the middle of forest, there are no signs pointing out the direction. It is larger than the biggest hotels in the region. Here, major global players, such as BMW, Audi, VW come together with international companies from the component industry: Bosch, Continental, Mando, the DRV.
Test operations in Norrbotten is in strong organic growth. It is a very attractive cluster, appreciated by the major players in the automotive industry. Here in Arjeplog, it is easy to gather the right people for project meetings, it is close to a decision.
What future challenges do you see in the development of car testing industry in the region?
There is a global pressures for change in terms of legislation and development of fossil fuels. It will happen a lot in alternative fuels, such as gas and hydrogen gas. Also e-car will evolve and require testing. On top of this we have the very latest: autonomus driving, ie driverless vehicles. This places new demands on test and my assessment is that the test volume will increase as new technologies will require testing in many more steps.
A big question that is central to SPGA, is to extend the test season. We are working to create a complement to the test tracks available today by building an indoor climate hall. It would mean that we can start the testing season a little earlier and stay on a little longer. The investment is large and an important step for the development of the industry for the future.
I also wish for a more rapid development and updating of infrastructure in the region: for example, creating an electrical path, with charging stations and other alternative fuels. It would open up for test of more types of vehicles.
Do you have any advice for other players who want to invest in the testing industry in the region?
There are constantly new players, such as companies within the events industry: car manufacturers need local expertise and support in that area. The tourism industry also benefits from test industry: accommodation, meeting facilities and activities. I also see potential for engineering, where there is the opportunity to provide local expertise in testing. You have to be creative and listen to customer needs: there where the business opportunities are.
Do you have any additional thoughts or comments regarding business and investments in the region?
To continue developing the test industry in the region, it is important to refine and develop the infrastructure that has been built up. We must also ensure essential services in the region, such as emergency care. It is a requirement of the international players in the car and component industry.