As test tracks have been a key element of vehicle development for decades, GM’s new 1.6 billion yuan ($261 million) proving ground in Guangde County is the latest sign of the growing position of China .
Global carmakers are now rushing to make testing facilities in the world’s largest auto market to cater for local tastes, such as bolder grilles and larger back seats with more knee space. VW, on a heads on race with GM to sell 3 million units in China this year, has an even bigger proving ground scheduled for completion next year.GM in April announced plans to invest $11 billion through 2016 for local expansion. Four new assembly factories will, when completed, buoy annual capacity to 5 million units.
About 500 people work at the Guangde center, putting locally made Buicks, Chevrolets and Cadillacs through tests to emulate driving conditions in China, which overtook the US in 2010 as the automaker’s largest market.
“When you own the facility you can do what you need, and if you need the engineers to do something different you can test it out right then and there,” said Mark LaBaere, president of Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center Co., the research and development venture between GM and Chinese partner SAIC Motor Corp. “When you share a facility, sometimes a secured area is not so secure.”
GM’s models produced in China – among them the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Cruze hatchback introduced this year – are tested at Guangde. Before, engineers had to come from Shanghai to a rented government-owned center in Beijing. Or even further setting back the timetable by moving cars to GM tracks overseas.