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Volkswagen Testing Cars in Greenland

    As extreme as possible! Few words were needed to express the concise demands of one of the world's leading automobile producers - the German group Volkswagen, which also includes Audi, seat, Skoda, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini - when the carmaker was looking for new winter proving grounds. Get a FREE discount New Car Quote!

    Greenland will soon become the home of one of the toughest proving grounds in the world for the cars of the future. The track is now under construction on the inland ice near the international airport town of Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strømfjord) in West Greenland. Iceland and Canada were considered for the task, but didn't have the right stuff - the ice there wasn't hard enough.

    The testing track is being built for the testing company Nausta, which runs a testing site in northern Sweden. In the spring of 2000 the Swedish construction group Skanska's Greenlandic subsidiary completed six month's work in establishing a 30-kilometer-long road through the glacial valley from Kangerlussuaq to the edge of the permanent inland ice. They have now begun to lay a road that will stretch 150 kilometers on the inland ice to the site Nausta has chosen for its testing facility. At that location, Skanska will build a compound and testing grounds.

    The compound will contain a hotel with a cafeteria and other facilities to accommodate around 40 employees who will live there for six months at a time. A 900-square-meter workshop also will be constructed, along with testing ground which will cover and area about 50 kilometers in diameter.

    Nausta is building the facility to complement the winter testing done by Volkswagen in northern Sweden and Finland. It's always winter on the ice cap, but the site at Kangerlussuaq will primarily be used in the summer half of the year, from April through October. The Government of Greenland has given Nausta a 10-year operating permit, and that period may be extended.

    TELE Greenland A/S is installing the advanced communications system that will link the facility with Volkswagen's development departments at Wolffsburg, Mlada Boleslaw, Barcelona and Ingolstadt.

    The entire testing ground must be ready for use by April 2001, when the first batch of cars will arrive to face a trial of strength in extreme cold and conditions of near-zero friction. The cars will be flown from Europe to Kangerlussuaq, and then driven to the proving grounds after last-minute checks.


    The increased activities related to the project will affect Kangerlussuaq, which has a population of only 600. A total of 100 people are expected to be employed in connection with the testing facility. About 20-30 homes will be built for some of the employees who will be living in the town. The population increase means that the social, health and educational services will need to be expanded, and current residents hope that this often-overlooked town will develop into a thriving community.

    The first batch of Seat vehicles have already been driven on the road system around Kangerlussuaq this past winter. With a total length of only 36 kilometers, the roads were built by the U.S. Air Force between 1952 and 1992 when the airport was an American base. The cars were driven hard and constantly from 5:30 in the morning until midnight to determine how they would stand up to such treatment and conditions.

    One of the reasons that Kangerlussuaq was chosen for the facility was because it is Greenland's main international airport, with daily flights to Europe (via Copenhagen) and weekly flights to Canada. Thanks to its design as a military airport, the runway is able to accommodate the heavy aircraft that will be used to transport the vehicles from Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic and England. Because many of the vehicles will be secret test models, it is an added attraction to have a testing facility that is not easily accessible to industrial spy photographers and curious spectators.

Mutual gains

    Greenland's primary gain from Volkswagen's project will be the development of Kangerlussuaq. On the longer term, though, it is hoped that the testing site will bring attention to the country's attractions for other commercial developments. The combination of extreme climactic conditions, a well-developed infrastructure and reliable logistics make Greenland a unique spot for ultimate testing of equipment and materiel.

    The establishment of the testing centre in Greenland gives Volkswagen's development engineers the best possible conditions for testing the performance of prototypes in extreme cold and wind. The will also have basic information for developing and perfecting an automobile's traction, braking abilities and steering dynamics, as well as other automotive features. VW's public relations staff will be able to use the hefty argument that the company's cars are tested on the Greenland Ice Cap. The competition can hardly match that statement - yet!

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This article was published in This is Greenland 2000-2001, © 2000 by the Government of Greenland. Reprinted here with the express permission of the publisher.