A very merry journey maker: Around the world in 6 sleigh stops


It’s that time of year again. The festive season is upon us, and the sound of jingle bells is in the air.

But there’s still time to celebrate one last journey maker before we head off to our parties, puddings and the obligatory partridge in a pear tree. 

So, in the spirit of the season, we’ve decided to focus on the original Christmas traveller. Forget the late night dash up the M1, or the last train to Exeter on Christmas Eve: this man makes a 510,000,000km round trip in the space of just 24 hours.

Yes, this week we’re looking at Santa Claus, and the journey he takes across the globe.                                                                                                                                             

Stop #1 - Strawberry shortcake in Japan

It’s well known that Santa begins his Christmas Eve at the international date line, travelling from east to west.

One of the first stops on his journey is Japan – a vitally important place in world automotive history.

Since the 1960s, Japan has been one of the world’s top three car manufacturers. In 2017 alone they produced 8.35 million automobile units.

Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Suzuki, Mitsubishi: these firms are some of the most successful international brands, renowned for their efficiency, attractive designs and innovative ideas.

The fact that Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world has certainly powered its auto industry – hopefully Santa will be able to learn a thing or two while he’s there.

Stop #2 – Glühwein in Germany

Heading west, Santa will eventually arrive in Europe, where he will bring Weihnachten to Germany.

While he’s there, he might make use of the famous autobahns, where there are no speed limits – only recommendations.

Germany is, of course, another nation with an outstanding automotive pedigree. Audi, BMW and Volkswagen are proud German brands, whose focus on technological innovation is world-renowned (Audi’s longstanding motto has been ‘"Vorsprung Durch Technik", meaning advancement through technology).

In 2016 and 2017, the country accounted for around 22% of all cars exported in the world, the most of any one country and almost as much as the rest of Europe combined.

It’s impressive stuff – especially for such a keen journey maker like Santa.

Stop #3 – Kerststol in the Netherlands

After Germany, he’ll continue over mainland Europe into the Netherlands.

In Amsterdam, he might choose to swap his sleigh for push bike, joining the 58% of locals who cycle more than 2 million km each day through the city’s many cycle lanes.

It’s estimated that half of all journeys in Amsterdam take place on two wheels. For this reason, the city is pioneering a new type of road – the car-less road.

Lots of streets are inaccessible by motor vehicle. Instead, there are specially designed cycle lanes, which are separated and elevated from the road, enabling cyclists to have a safer and more stress-free experience.

Stop #4 – Figgy pudding in London

Next stop: London! And who could visit England’s largest metropolis without hopping on the tube?

The first London Underground line was opened in 1863, running between Paddington and Farringdon Street. Today, 1.35 million passengers travel across the tube network each year.

It was the world’s first ever subterranean railway, and in its 150-year history, it’s doubled itself with new stations, sheltered families in the Blitz and become an unlikely cultural icon.

But, lovely as the tube is, it’s likely that Santa will eventually want to find a new way of getting around.

So it’s lucky that London is home to SMLL, a testbed for future transport solutions located in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Olympic Park at Stratford.

Here, Santa will be able to join us is testing our fleet of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs), as we search for a way to make transport in London safer and more efficient for the citizens of our capital.

Maybe this time next year we’ll see a connected autonomous sleigh?

Stop #5 – Egg nog in America

Crossing the Atlantic, Santa will eventually land in the USA. He’ll be visiting the Mecca of the motor industry: Detroit, Michigan.

Known as ‘motor city’, Detroit was home to three of the biggest car manufacturers of the twentieth century: Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

Ford’s famous Model T alone sold more than 19 million cars before 1927, giving an indication of Detroit’s enormous automotive strength in this era.

Stop #6 – Mince pies and a welcome rest

Then it will be time to return to the Arctic circle.

Santa will be heading home on his sleigh, which scientists have estimated moves at 650 miles per second – which equates to 3,000 times the speed of sound.

It’s an incredible feat considering the sleigh is a thousand-year-old technology, pulled along by only nine reindeer.

But sometimes, the journeys that seem impossible are the most important.

A few years ago, if somebody had told you that London would be home to a testbed for connected autonomous vehicles, you would have thought they were joking.

But now, SMLL is making this wildest dream into a working, commercial reality. It’s every bit as magical as Santa’s flying sleigh.

Merry Christmas everyone!