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What BMW develops in Arjeplog seldom stays in Arjeplog

BMW-Mini-3
BMW-Mini

As the world’s largest, automotive cold weather test facility, the thousands of acres of Swedish lakeland and forestry resound annually to revving engines and whirring electric motors, states Iain Robertson, that are destruction tested to improve manufacturer dependability, a factor never more important than it is for a future of EVs and BEVs.

It may intrigue you to appreciate that, while some pre-launch models and information can slip out from the otherwise high-security location, existing models that may have been on sale for the past few years also continue to form vital research platforms and programmes for the future. It is a never-ending conveyor belt. Of course, Arjeplog is the largest and, these days, best known such facility but several areas of Arctic Circle Sweden and Finland (Norway, as a result of its more complex coastal and fjord geography, is used more for on-road mileage), are turned over most profitably by local landowners and Saami farmers to the world’s motor industry and can be highly productive for at least six months of every year.

BMW-Mini-1
BMW-Mini

One aspect is virtually guaranteed, even in these days of global warming, that sub-zero temperatures are a given. In fact, it is the extensive low temperature conditions that have led to one of the most practical aspects of electric vehicle development, battery pre-heating and conditioning, which aids packaging longevity, as well as increasing cold weather range expectations. Snow-covered roads and specially prepared areas on frozen lakes serve as ideal test tracks and the test engineers can tune precisely the spontaneous power development of the electric motor, the control systems for optimising traction, cornering behaviour, suspension and damping characteristics, as well as the characteristics of the steering and braking systems. The integrated application of all drive and chassis systems enables a mature degree of overall harmony, which will help the production model deliver the perfect balance of Mini feeling and relative driving comfort.

BMW is launching its fifth generation Mini 3-Door Hatch as the first model of the revised and rationalised new family. With its vehicle concept geared towards fully electric from the outset, it is ideally suited to deliver signature Mini handling, while providing a creative use of cabin space allied to a small footprint. The new car will be revealed in late 2023 and will continue to be available with internal combustion engines for the meantime. For various reasons, BMW has also used this preemptive opportunity to release scant details of a new crossover in the small-car segment and the next generation Mini Countryman in the compact estate car segment. The company is also developing concepts for John Cooper Works models with an electrified drivetrain.

BMW-Mini-2
BMW-Mini

In some respects, to an industry specialist more familiar with receiving Hans Lehmann ‘spy’ photographs, it is unusual that a carmaker is now previewing its future product plans so openly, even though site security remains a key priority at Arjeplog. Yet, while the world’s motor shows continue to be scheduled, it is fair to suggest that product ‘secrets’ are not as blatantly obvious as they once used to be. Design concepts intrigue but only infrequently do they presage new model developments, which can still form the remits of independent styling centres, as well as encouraging ‘Saturday Club’ activities within carmakers’ own facilities. In a future to be predominated by electrically powered vehicles, where platform and component sharing will be rife and product individuality will be allowed simply to slip away unnoticed, perhaps the signs are already on the wall and have been so for the past decade at least.

Yet, research and development programmes retain high levels of import and the larger manufacturers remain as keen to retain their independence in those respects, allocating funds annually to maintain them. The Mini brand is a case in point, possessing as it does a number of well-publicised characteristics that are considered to be brand intrinsic. While the BMW suspension development is a country-mile removed from the rubber and later Hydrolastic fluid springing of Dr Alex Moulton, the amount of steel springing and friction damping wizardry in evidence in Munich on the ‘new’ Mini is little less than prodigiously amazing. The rest of the Mini may well be a cliche-riven comic book representation of the original but the original version seldom made any profit for BLMC, unlikely to be the case for BMW.

Conclusion:     Now clearly a popular model for BMW, the latest iterations of the Bavarian firm’s range of small cars are set to continue for another few years in what is likely to be a reduced line-up that will also include a compact SUV contender. This should keep the lines turning at Plant Oxford, supported by the engine factory at Ham’s Hall, West Midlands. In the meantime, the larger 4×4 versions of the Countryman will continue to be constructed in Austria to serve a broader world car scene.