BEIJING - As automakers and suppliers increasingly use Chinese engineers to develop global products, being able to test those products in China is crucial to keeping costs down. TRW Automotive Inc. knows that.
Heihe, a frigid city of about 150,000 people on the Sino-Russian border in northern China, is the site of TRW's latest winter proving grounds for brake slip and stability-control testing. "It is more than 50 percent less expensive than Sweden, North America or New Zealand," says Kevin
Elgood, engineering director of TRW Automotive Asia Pacific's r&d center in Shanghai.
Proximity to customers is another advantage of Heihe. Previously, cars were sent from China to Arvidsjaur, Sweden, or Raco, Mich., in the state's Upper Peninsula. Heihe, in the Heilongjiang province, is a three-and-a-half-hour plane ride from Beijing.
TRW says the temperature in Heihe can fall to minus 86 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods. Also, ice at the Chinese track averages more than 11.8 inches vs. about 1.8 inches in Sweden. "We can get on the ice much earlier and stay much later," Elgood says. "We can get more programs in."
The engineers who design the parts on the vehicles sent to Heihe also can follow up more easily because they don't need to visit another country.
The proving grounds operates out of rented space. But TRW is building its own office and garage space. And while the site was intended to serve TRW's customers in China, Heihe's low costs are attracting attention.
Says Elgood: "There are studies going on now about the possibility of shipping cars from other parts of the world."