Renault Group

Aubevoye Technical Centre: 40 years of passion for cars and stories to tell

23 April 2021
3 MIN

Hidden in Normandy’s forests and skirting the meandering Seine, the Centre Technique d’Aubevoye (CTA) is a secret Renault Group base. This facility is classified as confidential and checks all Group brand prototypes during their development. It runs static and dynamic tests on new models, fine-tunes them and subjects them to endurance trials before okaying them for the market. The CTA was built in 1982 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary today. Generations of passionate women and men have written the story of this base, and to some extent that of a region and an extraordinary industrial system. It is the hopes and the hurdles they have overcome, the hard work and the accomplishments over these 40 years that every employee here can look back on with pride, and they all intertwine with story of the models that first spun their wheels in Aubevoye.

 

BY FLORENTINA DECA & Delphine ROSAIN-BOUSSIQUET

When you are heading to Gaillon on departmental road 6015, all you can see to your left and right is trees. Until you reach the sign directing you to the Centre Technique d’Aubevoye, there is nothing to suggest there is a Renault Group base nearby. This one-of-a-kind technical centre has tools at the cutting edge of technology to replicate the full range of stresses and strains cars will endure once they are in their customers’ hands. It spans 613 hectares and has 35 tracks stretching 60 km in all, 42 test benches, 2 wind tunnels and 18 corrosion test chambers, all out of sight behind 272 hectares of woods shielding cars in the development pipeline from prying eyes.

Only insiders can step in. But, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the place where magic happens at every step and on every bend, we are taking you on a virtual tour to let you in on several secrets!

The tracks in Aubevoye: 6 million km of test drives a year!

To put things into perspective, the longest circuit on the Formula 1 programme today is 7.004 km long. The tracks at Aubevoye are more than 60 km long and mimic every type of road known worldwide. The various circuits and roads were built from 1982 and 2000 and their countless surfaces, tight turns and steep slopes will wow anyone who enjoys a thrill behind the wheel. But, besides the entertainment the tracks no doubt provide for the drivers who test Renault, Dacia and Alpine prototypes, the Centre has a job to do and it includes listening to every noise, testing each component from the steering to the suspension, running endurance tests and analysing handling on the road.

To index the areas during the tests, we do what fans do at racetracks: we give bends nicknames.”

Frédéric
Track Manager at Aubevoye

Every turn on the dry trial tracks has its own nickname. Don’t be surprised: there’s always an explanation! Starting with “crow’s foot”. At the beginning of the circuit, the track forks out to the left and right. So it looks like a bird’s foot. Quite a poetic metaphor, right? The next bend is “glove finger”. Which is perfectly logical because it looks just like a nice and round… well… glove finger. The fastest curve on the circuit (which drivers negotiate at over 200 km/h), pays homage to an ill-fated two-time Formula 1 world champion in the 1950s, Alberto Ascari. Then two bends have been dubbed the “Boucles des Biscornes”, after the eponymous ones at Linas-Montlhéry racetrack. The “farm turn” also has a story: period photos show that there was once a farm in this part of the site. And, lastly, the “exit bing-bang” is audible enough to need no explanation. This 3.9 km track is used to fine-tune chassis and ideal for a full array of tests to calibrate the front and rear axles, and to check ground link, brake durability, overall reliability, traction and drift behaviour. The wet track complements it and is used for other tests.

Alpine A110 S trial on the wet track

Rome to Brussels in seconds

Next, let’s tour a few of Europe’s capitals. It’s easy: just follow the signs to Rome, Brussels, Madrid or London. This track is just over 2 km long and replicates driving conditions in the cities’ centres, including the traffic lights, stop signs, speed bumps and several intersections. So you can skip from Rome to Brussels literally in seconds. Enjoy your trip!

The Megane E-TECH Electric on the “city centre” track, passing from Rome to Brussels

Next, the self-explanatory “speed ring”, where drivers can push the engine until the car reaches 250 km/h, including the sharp turns where they can reach 180 km/h, without turning the steering wheel. All the aerodynamic tests are carried out here. Fun fact: 16 gigantic fans alongside this track simulate winds blowing at 14 to 72 km/h to check each model’s stability and calculate its deviation. Light commercial vehicles have an electronic device to keep them stable on motorways, on account of their extra weight. Interestingly, the direction cars follow on the speed ring is the same as on real-life racetracks: counter-clockwise. It may have to do with the left hemisphere of the brain, the direction blood flows through the heart, centrifugal forces or a Roman tradition; there are plenty of legends and hypotheses to try to explain this phenomenon, but nobody knows exactly why it is (yet). It just is!

Next, a change of scenery: Aubevoye of course also has an assortment of steep slopes, medium mountain tracks and off-road trails to try out 4x4s and all the other models. There are more than 40 metres of climbs and more than a few bridges to cross, potholes and slants providing all the thrills and chills of rough driving. As an aside, nobody has the slightest idea how long the off-road stretch is. And legend has it that one must never venture onto this trail alone (or, if you do, at least make sure you take all your kit!). These sections subject our models’ traction to severe strain. Another bit of trivia: there are as many left turns as right turns.

Testing Dacia Duster’s traction on the off-road trail

Laurent Hurgon, an Alpine Cars test driver and developer working on all Renault Group models at Aubevoye, presents all these tracks in an exclusive video.

Extreme tracks to test durability

Before we leave the roads, let’s swing by a few of the spots that could aptly be described as vehicle torture chambers. To reproduce all kinds of roads and simulate weather conditions in each country, the CTA has also built extreme tracks. For example a dust tunnel to replicate the conditions in Argentina, a country where dust levels are very high. For countries where it rains a lot, there is a 24 cm deep ford with 6 cm holes. So the models have to withstand the shock from 30 cm deep water. A gigantic 3 metre by 3 metre artificial “puddle” was built to check the vehicles emerge unscathed even after speeding through it at 80 km/h.

As you’ll probably agree, the tracks at Aubevoye are full of surprises. But, while dynamic tests are essential to verify behaviour on the road, static tests are vital during new vehicle design phases. Several buildings in the middle of the CTA house contraptions we never imagine existed. Here’s a quick overview of the fine-tuning during each model’s development process.

Plotters, computers and other developments that have maked their time

We quite logically asked how tests were carried out before computers and calculation software. Jean-Marc, a test methods expert at Aubevoye had the answer:

Long gone are the days when plotting tables were used to record test parameters on the first CTA chassis dynamometers! But the goal has not changed: to offer customers the lowest consumption without sacrificing performance. However, test facilities have continually evolved to meet increasingly stringent regulations and technological developments: hybrid, electric and hydrogen engines, etc. Hundreds of parameters are now measured to analyse and optimize vehicle performance

In 40 years, computers have also replaced magnetic tapes to record sounds. Today, they measure everything. Even silence. They check the quality of the acoustics inside the passenger compartment and outside it, to treat customers to optimal comfort inside and to meet the various regulatory requirements outside. Electromagnetic waves are also quantified in strange anechoic” and “semi-anechoic” chambers in the Electromagnetic Compatibility lab built in 2005. The sound chamber, radio-frequency chamber, chamber to measure electromagnetic emissions from the vehicle’s electronics without external interference and chamber to test the vehicle’s electromagnetic resistance are a few of the latest new features that help to avoid electromagnetic disruptions and check that the increasingly complex connected features in vehicles work well.

This centre in a class by itself also has test benches, wind tunnels and corrosion chambers, where cars are subjected to relentless strain in order to test their ageing process. The goal with the salt mist, heat (plus 55 °C), cold (minus 30 °C) and wind (up to 230 km/h) is to reproduce in a few months the conditions that customers will use their cars in during several years in every part of the world, including the harshest.

To wrap up our tour of this one-of-a-kind facility, here are a few more noteworthy facts:

  • For every tree that was cut down to construct the tracks and buildings, three others were planted inside and outside the site.
  • As the CTA is surrounded by a large forest, it has a forestry department to maintain the forest… and sell timber.
  • 2,300 end-of-life cars were recycled last year at a unique facility on site.
  • Design presentations are staged at this base, which has a network of tracks concealed from snooping eyes and lenses.
  • The security guards’ round is 14 km long.
  • A new test bench, quite unlike any other in France, is being built to measure consumption and pollution, provide a wider range of temperatures and simulate sunshine.

Here are a few pics of the various stages of the construction of the site that now tests every Renault Group vehicle before it reaches the market.

The CTA was built in 1982
The first tracks were built in 1982 (the speed ring, behaviour track, performance area, work trail, etc.)
1983 – The first roller test benches to measure consumption and pollution in order to secure certification; these benches have since been extensively renovated, revamped and replaced
Cars were tested using the resources available at the time
Many exhibitions have been organized on the site of Aubevoye all these years
2000 – Construction of the steep slopes, medium-mountain tracks and national highway
2020 – Started up a new bench to test consumption and autonomy relative to weather conditions (minus 30 °C to plus 50 °C with sunshine simulation)