Arctic Trucks’ Establish South African Operation

23 11 2010

Icelandic outfit Arctic Trucks, which modifies Toyota Hilux bakkies to cope with the most extreme environments on the planet, hopes to set up shop in South Africa.

Arctic Trucks research and development head Gísli Jónsson says the company aims to establish a local operation to do modifications to the Durban-made Hilux bakkie, turning it into the AT35, boasting 35-inch tyres.

“These are not the 44-inch tyres we put on the AT44 we take to the Antarctic,” says Jónsson. “They are narrower and more user-friendly.

“The AT35 performs well in the sand and dunes – better than any standard vehicle. But we can also supply bigger modifications for more extreme environments.”

Jónsson notes that the blueprint to open a local company has not been finalised yet.

“We are working on it – it should be sometime next year.”

Even if you have never before given a thought to torque or throttle, Arctic Trucks’ modified rides are bound to draw appreciation.

Jónsson and a team of specialists from the Icelandic company just spent three months in the country to convert a number of South African Hilux bakkies into machines capable of dealing with the extreme Antarctic environment.

“We keep as many parts as possible standard, because of the engine’s reliability and the availability of parts,” explains Jónsson.

“We are sending eight trucks to the Antarctic this season,” he adds.

The “season” is summer – in the loosest sense of the word – and lasts around two to three months. Outside of this period, it is pitch-black and extremely cold at the most southern tip of the world.

The vehicles will be used to support extreme ski racing on the continent, among other applications, explains Jónsson.

Arctic Trucks’ most capable vehicle is the AT44 6×6, which provides more load capacity, as well as off-road capability than the AT44 4×4 version.

What makes the vehicle so popular among the apostles of outdoor pleasure, is the fact that it offers more than stiff competition for the belted snow-vehicles used traditionally.

What an AT44 offers is to “float” over the 3 000-m deep snow and ice of the Antarctic, with its tyres pumped to a meagre 0,2 bar, reaching a top speed of 40 km/h, and with a consumption of around 50 l of special go-juice per 100 km travelled.

Don’t balk at these figures until you compare them with belted vehicles, at a top speed of 5 km/h to 7 km/h, burning fuel at a range of 250 l to 500 l per 100 km, says Jónsson.

“Our fuel consumption is astonishingly little,” he notes.

“Yes, we carry less load than belted vehicles, but we travel much faster.”

An AT44 6×6 weighs 2,2 t, and can then also be loaded with 3 t of goods, while it is also able to pull a trailer and load of 1,5 t.

One trick when driving an Arctic Trucks vehicle is to let it run throughout the night if the team stops somewhere.

“When the temperatures are below 30 ˚C, 35 ˚C, you keep the engine running,” says Jónsson.

He explains that Arctic Trucks came to South Africa to do the modifications for the Antarctic vehicles at Toyota South Africa’s workshops in Johannesburg, as it makes logistical sense to do the work here.

“The transport to Antarctica flies from Cape Town.”

The AT44 6×6, costing roughly R1,5-million, will be flown to a Russian air base in the Antarctic, from where it will travel 6 000 to 7 000 km to support an extreme ski race.

“It’s a lot of money, but you get a lot,” says Jónsson, who evolved a childhood love of lego construction into a career as a mechanical engineer.

Arctic Trucks opened its doors in the late eighties, modifying vehicles for an Icelandic market, which is very fond of trekking cross-country.

Its biggest order to date has been building a few hundred vehicles for the Norwegian Peacekeeping Force, with another 2 000 to 4 000 units to be built over the next four years.

“We have also supplied many surveillance vehicles and field ambulances,” notes Jónsson.

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