PSA Peugeot Citroën recently opened its new €130 million design centre at Vélizy, south of Paris, just 27 months after laying the first stone of the building. PSA chairman Jean-Martin Folz officially named the building ADN, which stands for Automotive Design Network, but is also the French acronym for DNA. Mark Bursa was there.

Folz said ADN would be a "genetic nursery" for both the Peugeot and Citroën marques, and said the move was necessary to put into practice the group's platform strategy, which involves launching a diverse range of models on just three basic platforms. "This policy, put into practice from 1999 and today representing almost 80% of the group's volumes, is a powerful lever, quite indispensable in the attainment of our objective of diversity," he said.

Between 2003 and 2006 the group plans to launch 26 models, 15 of which will come on to the market between 2005 and 2006, as it bids to bolster group sales from current worldwide levels of 3.3m units a year toward 4m. To facilitate this, the group R&D budget has been more than doubled to €2.35bn a year -5.2% of turnover - compared to five years ago. Folz said R&D spend would remain at 5-6% of turnover - which signifies an increasing spend in line with the group's growth projections

Folz highlighted the small car segment, where less than five years ago the group had only three models in the segment (Citroen Saxo, Peugeot 106 and 206). "Today we offer eight, and will have 10 between now and mid-2005." These will comprise the 206 3- and 5-door, 206SW, 206CC, 1007, C2, C3, C3 Pluriel, and two Peugeot and Citroën models resulting from the cooperation with Toyota at Kolin in the Czech Republic.

ADN will be responsible for all vehicles built on platform 1 (A and B-segment) and platform 3 (D-segment). Development of platform 2 (C-segment) vehicles will continue at the existing design centre at Sochaux in Alsace, as most of these vehicles are built either at Sochaux or the nearby PSA plant at Mulhouse.

ADN's key mission is to develop distinctive styles and 'signatures' for both group marques, while leveraging common technical resources in order to bring vehicles to production in ever-decreasing cycle times. The plan is clearly working, on the evidence of new models launched at last month's Paris Show, the Citroen C4 and Peugeot 1007.

Folz said: "Renewal of the Peugeot and Citroën ranges requires a foreshortening of development times despite the increasing complexity of vehicles and a toughening of the standards they need to meet. That kind of performance and its improvement depend largely on the quality of the work done by the design teams. The evolution of the Vélizy centre imposed itself."

He added: "Between several models on a same platform, over 60% of the components are common. It is for the designers to differentiate products on one platform by being free to use the other 40% at their disposal to reinforce the values of each brand. This new centre will enable PSA Peugeot Citroën to improve its performance even further, through better and speedier design, while controlling its costs and giving the Peugeot and Citroën marques the most appropriate and competitive resources for designing aesthetically and technically successful cars, in tune with their respective values."

The process of reorganizing design operations within the PSA Peugeot Citroën group began with the setting up of the Innovation and Quality Department in February 1998, with the strict objective of creating "increasingly distinctive aesthetic identities" for both Peugeot and Citroën.

Non-marque-specific engineering development for mechanical components such as engines, transmissions and suspension systems will remain at another PSA centre at La Garenne-Colombes, near Paris. But all complete vehicle development will now be concentrated at Vélizy and Sochaux.

While 'brand-specific' design teams at Vélizy work in their own areas, the 70,000m2, three-floor building contains many technical resources that are shared between the two. Within ADN, shared spaces have been set up for all common phases of new product design, particularly project areas and prototype production.

A new high-speed digital milling machine, which makes it considerably easier to define vehicle architecture and to draw up form plans, is being inaugurated as part of ADN. Shared tools also include CAD workstations, digital scale modeling and graphics workstations as well as calculation and simulation applications.

There are also several major virtual reality innovations in a 500m2 area of the building. The most notable of these is the CAVE system, a virtual reality room that creates the illusion of being completely immersed in a virtual environment, allowing multiple solutions to be tested without producing physical prototypes. CAVE is used to appraise vehicle interiors and their layout. It consists of a cube-shaped total immersion room with five fixed surfaces: three screens are placed vertically, perpendicular to one another, while the other two are horizontal, on the ceiling and floor. High-intensity floodlights provide very bright lighting and a wireless camera tracks motion.

The CAVE unit also allows fine-tuning of industrial processes, with simulations of operation that will be carried out at factory workstations. Vehicle exteriors can also be viewed in full-scale virtual reality, with near-fluid animations thanks to advances in computing power.

A second virtual reality innovation is called Holobench, basically a smaller-scale version of CAVE that is used to simulate work in smaller environments, such as the engine. It allows engineers to study the mounting and removal of mechanical assemblies. Holobench has been developed from the Catia CAD-CAM system, and from PSA's collaboration with Catia's developer Dassault Systèmes.

Some 1,100 employees will be working at the ADN, 900 of them in permanent positions. More than 20 nationalities are represented in the design staff. More than 650 people moved from other locations in June 2004. Thanks to the extensive relocation support provided by the human resources department, transfers took place without any major problems.

The architecture of the ADN building itself is designed to play a crucial part in fulfilling the aims of the project. The design, by architects Jacques Ripault and Denise Duhart, was selected in 2000 from 54 bids submitted to PSA by a selection panel headed by PSA Peugeot Citroën Innovation & Quality Director Robert Peugeot.

The design was chosen as it offered the best fit with what the group expected from the building. Part of the difficulty lay in designing into the structure a functional logic that was similar to the stages in the development of a car. The building evokes the various steps in the creative process, as the design evolves from the lower ground floor to the roof terraces, where prototypes can be viewed in natural light.

ADN is a long building with a banded façade of glass and raw concrete. The impressive amount of glass surfaces, made up of 5m-high panels, reflects a constant focus on creating a light and airy environment. The street level is dedicated to the engineering project areas. This level leads to the former Citroën Creation Center, which has been redesigned. The second level contains the styling area, made up of three spaces apportioned to Citroën, Peugeot and joint-project teams.

The upper level is reserved for presentations, which can take place either in natural lighting, or in a 'cyclorama' where nine vehicles can be displayed in high-quality lighting. All workstations within the building are connected to a fibre-optic network.

PSA has also created an art installation at the building, using the work of American artist 'lighting artist' James Turrell, who gave it a highly creative lighting scheme. At night, the building is illuminated by changing coloured lights, which run in an hour-long sequence.