Engineers at new Test Center California begin work

Drew with VW

On Monday, I attended the grand opening of the Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. Test Center California (TCC) in Oxnard, CA. This 64,000-square-foot facility is one of the primary product development and emissions test laboratories globally and is the only center of its kind for Volkswagen Group in North America, replacing the current test facilities located in Westlake Village, CA. After a brief ribbon cutting ceremony, I went on a tour of the grounds to experience the unique workshops firsthand.

With a select group of media, I first learned about how the TCC team is pursuing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver certification for the building itself–following in the footsteps of the LEED Platinum® certified plant in Chattanooga, TN where the Passat is built. Volkswagen’s goal is for the TCC to be one of the most environmentally conscious automobile test laboratories in the world. This approach is reflected in a variety of the building’s design elements, notably solar panels on the roof and over the carports, which can generate one-third of the building’s power supply, and the use of efficient plumbing technologies to help reduce overall water usage by 35 percent.

The largest open testing area was the product development laboratory where engineers have access to dynamometers, laser-based alignment machines, wheel balancers, and more. One of the coolest features here is a system built into the ceiling that collects exhaust emissions from running vehicles with several tubes that can be moved to virtually anywhere in the room, compared to preceding systems that restricted this technology to being located only in lift bays.

Even more “cool,” engineers can test vehicles in temperatures from minus 30 up to 43 degrees Celsius in the emissions laboratory to help make sure the vehicles run appropriately. This technology saves engineers from having to send vehicles to places like Alaska for testing.

The TCC will play a crucial role in ensuring that innovative engine technologies are integrated into the product development process, acting as the final stop before vehicles are approved for production. Beyond prototype vehicles, engineers will also test new production models for durability. These models are placed into fleets which are commonly first put into regular consumers’ hands to drive as their day-to-day vehicles, under an agreement with the center. Once these drivers have put enough miles on the vehicles, engineers will thoroughly test the entire vehicle for durability and even purposely install incorrect components to make sure all sensors are working correctly.

The last stop on my tour was the parts analysis laboratory. To put it simply, any parts that could turn on the “check engine” light are tested in this room. Aside from new prototype parts, the engineers stress test components that are commonly replaced at dealerships to help ensure the dealer makes appropriate replacement decisions and predict common wear items.

After a full day at the facility, I sat down with one of the engineers to get answers to some of the great questions I received on Facebook last week. I’ve included the answers below. For additional information on Test Center California, follow this link to the official press release distributed earlier this week.

Inquiries from Facebook Fans:

Are facility tours available?
• Unfortunately, with prototypes and new technologies being tested, Volkswagen cannot offer tours.

Is the facility hiring?
• The facility recently hired more people for the opening of the TCC, bringing the current count to 50 people. The facility will continue to hire as needed and I would recommend anyone interested continuously check the VW career site for opportunities.

Will the Scirocco be tested here?
• While one focus of the facility will be North American products, the TCC will be testing vehicles and technologies from around the world so there is a good chance that locals will get a glimpse of the Scirocco, Amarok, and other popular international models.

Will there be any diesel testing here, specifically a diesel hybrid or diesel Tiguan?
• VW will continue to make advancement in diesel technology and the TCC will be at the forefront. I confirmed that product planners are looking into diesel options on future models, beyond the vehicles that are currently fitted with TDI® Clean Diesel engines.

What Volkswagen Group brands will be tested here? Will Ducati be included?
• Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti will all be tested at the facility. Currently, there are no plans to include Ducati.

What does Volkswagen do with the vehicles after they have gone through testing? Are they for sale?
• This depends on the specific vehicle. Generally the facility will receive three different types of vehicles: prototypes, new production vehicles and customer vehicles. Obviously, customer vehicles will go back to the owner. Prototypes are not allowed to be sold but may be used for specific events like auto shows. The production vehicles used in fleet testing at times are sold to dealers to offer as pre-owned vehicles. However, the disposition of vehicles varies depending on the type of testing, repair, or age of the vehicle.

How does VW identify consumer test drivers?
• VW receives leads from dealers and surveys on customers that live in target regions and have specific driving patterns. In short, there’s no list, but if you are asked to participate in a VW survey, know that they are seriously evaluated!

Will Volkswagen continue to manufacturer manual transmissions?
• Yes. Volkswagen is performance-oriented and knows it has many customers that enjoy rowing their own gears.

Why California? Does it have to do with emissions standards in the state?
• There are several reasons why Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. chose Oxnard, CA. Most importantly was the relatively constant climate of Oxnard, sea level elevation, and clean air.

There are hundreds of solar panels on the roof. What percentage of the facility’s power do they offer? Is there something written on the roof with the panels? Do the panels over the parking lot power plug in vehicles like the E-Golf?
• There are more than 2,500 panels supplying 430 kilowatts of power, approximately one-third of the facility’s power. The panels are in a unique display on the roof but solely for logistical reasons (e.g., avoiding air conditioning vents and other items on the rooftop). There are charging stations for electric vehicles in the parking lot, but the panels on top of the carports provide power to the entire site so they contribute to all energy needs including the electric vehicle chargers when they are being used.

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