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Extreme testing like nowhere else

Hot days and straight roads make the Northern Cape the perfect place for testing the world’s best cars.

It would be difficult to think of a place less like Upington than Arjeplog. For starters, the town in the Lapland region of Sweden is about 15 000 km north of the Northern Cape town. And then there’s the average temperatures—the hottest summer day in Arjeplog is about 20°, which would count as a fairly average day-time temperature in Upington in winter! But the towns share an important function in the automotive industry.

Because of their extreme temperatures, some of the world’s top motor vehicle manufacturers test their cars in Arjeplog in the northern winter, and in the Northern Cape in the southern summer.

Not only are the hot conditions good for testing these vehicles, but the high quality of roads also attracts manufacturers. There is a private test circuit outside Upington and a section of the N14 near Pofadder is designated for testing at speeds up to 250km/h, but strictly for “authorised vehicles” only, which must show a bright yellow sticker.

An online aviation forum carried a photograph taken by a car buff some years ago, of a Bugatti Veyron outside a store in downtown Upington. It would definitely have turned a few heads, with a new one in 2016 on sale for about $2.5-million. A tyre change for such a vehicle would be no small matter, so getting the testing right is very important.

Upington Airport is big enough to accommodate the biggest cargo planes carrying cars on their way to testing sites.

While sedan cars enjoy the tar, sports utility vehicles (SUVs) or bakkies are often spotted on the province’s dusty pans and sandy hills doing off-road testing. To prepare for the Dakar Rally, the Toyota Gazoo Racing team took their Hilux out to the Goerapan for a tough workout in conditions that were similar to what they would encounter in South America. Lots of sand and loose gravel, sharp ups and downs – and all at top speed.

No studies have been done on the economic impact of car testing in the Northern Cape, but an article in Autonews in 2015 gave the annual value of car testing to the Arjeplog economy of $163.8-million. Several companies have bases in the town, including Opel (who were the first to visit in the 1960s), Land Rover, BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Opel, GKN and Robert Bosch.

Automotive manufacturers are welcome to contact the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism in this regard.

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