History of the eSled

Research for the eSled began as part of a publicly funded r&d project at Lapland University of Applied Sciences (Lapland UAS), in Rovaniemi. Quick assembly of a simple proof-of-concept prototype convinced the Finnish government of the tangible potential the project held.

“After that, we essentially started again from scratch, with fresh research into electrification, related standards and component distributors,” CEO and founder Matti Autioniemi recounts.

The subsequent prototypes ran on lead-acid batteries, simply to get the snowmobile moving so that the drivetrain and other components could be tested. Naturally, however, a lot of r&d into superior battery technology followed, as the lead-acid batteries were good for no more than a few kilometres at a time.
Once the team agreed on lithium battery suppliers, new prototypes followed, with different eSleds using different suppliers’ batteries to benchmark the performance of each one. These new snowmobiles also underwent intensive cold climate testing, in the university’s testing chambers and sometimes simply by stepping outdoors into the -40 ºC Lapland winter.

“The electric motors, inverters and batteries were also being run and characterised extensively in the university’s dynamometer at the time,” Autioniemi adds. “Lapland UAS has a lot of equipment for developing and testing powertrain systems so we used them wherever we could.”

Based on the results of all this r&d, the researchers steadily optimised a fleet of test vehicles, which in 2011 they loaned to a local guided tour company to gather real-world data and user feedback from their intended commercial use.

World´s best electric snowmobile, from year 2015

Following further r&d, Lapland UAS sent its team to the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge in Houghton, in the US, in 2015, to enter the Zero Emissions Class of contenders offering designs of fully electric snowmobiles. The competition involved judges analysing each snowmobile using several criteria, including but not limited to performance, handling, cost and assembly methods.
Autioniemi and his colleagues were the sole entrants from outside North America (all the others were from Canada or the US), and they won their category that year and again in 2016. These victories encouraged the team to spin Aurora Powertrains out as a company from Lapland UAS in March 2017, to commercialise the eSled and its battery systems, initially as a conversion kit for IC engine snowmobiles but with production now discontinued in favour of the new OEM eSled. Subsidiary Aurora eMotion was founded 12 months later to help oversee eco-tourism services from some of Finland’s biggest Arctic resorts in Rovaniemi, Levi and Ylläs.

“It wasn’t just the international recognition,” Autioniemi says. “The SAE competition had us redesign the snowmobile according to a set of rules based on international snowmobile safety regulations. That educated us on how to build a standards-compliant snowmobile that we could legally build and sell to businesses for tourism and other applications.”

That prepared the team for how to produce the first commercial eSled conversion kits, with a lot of r&d going into making the system cost-effective for small batch production while still maximizing the speed and range to fall not too short of conventional ICengined models.

“We also streamlined the kit’s integration process, because we wanted everything to bolt on smoothly without drilling a bunch of holes or cutting a load of material away,” Autioniemi notes. “We wanted to receive the chassis with the IC engines already removed, install the e-powertrain, do some programming and have it work.
“You can’t just place components wherever you like in a conversion model though, so that meant a lot of compromises that were suboptimal for performance, such as a 9.5 kWh battery and only 40 km of range. So the new eSled, being a clean-sheet design, is a lot more capable overall thanks to the all-new chassis optimized for our parts.”
Olli Haavikko, co-founder and chief mechanical design engineer at Aurora Powertrains, adds, “We started on concepts for the blank-sheet design in the summer of 2019, with a key goal of doing away with all the limitations on packaging, range, weight, battery capacity and so on.”
Thirty-four of the old eSled conversion kits were produced, its standard platform being a Lynx Adventure LX600 ACE snowmobile chassis.
Eight have been leased to tourism organisation Hurtigruten Svalbard in the Svalbard archipelago (and now in their fourth year of commercial use), seven more have been sold to Experience Pyhä in northern Finland, and 20 units are rented through Aurora eMotion. The last of these are used in tours run by Safarctica, one of Finland’s biggest destination management companies and a close partner in Aurora’s tourist services.

“We therefore have several years of r&d and more than 200,000 km under our belt to validate that the technology works,” explains Autioniemi. “We expect most deliveries of the new eSled model’s pre-orders to be completed by December 2023.”