China's first automobile wind tunnel has begun operation at Tongji University in Shanghai in what is being described locally as a major break-through in vehicle development and production.

Costing CNY490m (US$72m), the tunnel will allow testing of cars, buses, sport utility vehicles, trucks and train models, university vice president Chen Xiaolong told China Daily.

It will enable designers to develop more energy-efficient and attractive cars in China, and also facilitate the research and development of new energy vehicles, high-speed trains and large aircraft, added centre director Yang Zhigang.

The centre has technology for noise control, ground simulation and measuring aerodynamic forces, he said. "It will strengthen China's competitiveness in the automobile market."

"I had two dreams when I came back to China from Germany nine years ago," said science and technology minister Wan Gang. "One was to design our own new energy cars; the other was to build China's first automobile wind tunnel."

"Now both dreams have come true."

Chinese automobile manufacturers previously had to pay "millions of euros" for wind tunnel testing abroad.