Volkswagen Test Center California: an air of purity


It’s remarkable how few people know the amount of work required to build the most complicated piece of machinery they own. And it’s a real wonder cars don’t cost three times what they do, mainly because of the mountain of regulations heaped upon automakers. While the government, with all its rules and requirements, pretty much has dictated what cars today must look like, it’s the invisible guidelines that keep the engineers awake at night.

One of the biggest topics that automotive manufacturers must monitor is emissions. The State of California started to legislate emissions control in 1966, followed by the entire U.S. two years later. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Clean Air Act, which gave the agency broad authority over emissions regulations. Not that this is bad, as it certainly helped reduce pollution from automobiles by 95 percent. But some estimates note that all these emissions requirements can add up to $6,000 to the price of a vehicle.

No state is more stringent on emissions than California. If you lived or visited Los Angeles in the 1970s, you saw how pollution (not all of it from cars) was choking the city into a slow and painful demise. Today, California remains the strictest state, but many other states have adopted California emissions standards to help us all breathe a little easier.

It’s quite easy for the government to write the rules because it doesn’t have to do anything but enforce them. That’s all put upon any automobile company that wants to sell cars in the States, which is just about all of them. But compliance doesn’t come easy, and it certainly doesn’t come cheaply. Case in point, Volkswagen’s new Test Center California (TCC), an entire 64,000-square-foot complex in Oxnard, California, dedicated to meeting the emissions requirements for every new VW, Porsche, Audi, Bentley, and Bugatti sold in America.

This state-of-the-art, $27 million complex is responsible for not only emissions compliance, but also powertrain and systems development and field quality testing. While VW had a test center for 22 years in Westlake, California, it required more space as well as a more modern complex to set up and maintain all the current — as well as upcoming — requirements for its VW Group vehicles. was one of the lucky few journalists who were invited to the facility to see the myriad testing areas and inner workings of this technologically advanced laboratory.

For those who live outside of California, the weather in this state is ever changing, depending on the time of day. It can go from foggy and cold to blazing hot in a matter of hours, and, like most Southern Californians when the mercury rises, the best place to escape to is the beach. The temperature is cooler closer to the water, and tends to be cleaner as it moves with an on-shore breeze. This is one of the reasons why VW set up shop in Oxnard, about eight miles from the ocean. When you’re doing emissions testing, especially on test drive routes over local streets, the better the air, the more true the results.

Our tour started with the Quality Control Parts Analysis Lab, a small room that has the big task of analyzing 5,000 parts a year. These parts can either be brand new or ones that have come from customer vehicles that have had failures. VW tracks and tests the parts to see if it was a design or manufacturing defect that it can rectify during production. Each part is painstakingly tracked with bar codes and labeling, and is attended to by highly trained technicians who will work on the problem until a solution can be found. Seeing this lab inspires confidence in the VW Group products.

Just one of the many self-contained testing units in the TCC. This one holds one car for specific tests that can be monitored outside the unit.

Next, we were escorted to a large room where actual powertrain testing was occurring. This part of the building looked like a giant service bay area at a brand-new dealership. This is where the phrase “eat off the floor it’s so clean” must have originated. The shop was divided in two, with only VW products being tested on the right, and all other brands designated to stalls on the left. We saw a few different vehicles undergoing compliance, but we are prevented from telling you what they were. Your sharp eyes might be able spot something new in the photos.

The flat lifts will easily accommodate the low-slung Bentleys and Porsche vehicles that are part of the VW Group and come to the TCC for review.

The TCC also is capable of adapting for future requirements, as evidenced by the handful of charging stations set up for electric vehicle testing. Testing on EVs comes with its own set of safety requirements that included taping off the area from anyone not working on the vehicle. We equally were impressed by the equipment in the area because it shows a lot of effort and thought were put into the center by those who will work there, including lifts that were flush with the floor to accommodate those low-slung Porsches and Bugattis.


We’d be lying if we didn’t say that the room dedicated to Bugatti service was the most exciting part of the tour, especially since we had the chance to meet one of the five “Flying Doctors” authorized to work on Bugatti vehicles from around the world. When you’re dealing with supercars, everything about them is super, including the machine required to mount and dismount the tire rubber from the wheels. Previously, the only machine that was capable of this feat for Bugatti was located in Europe, so if you needed to exchange your tires for a new set (a mere $65,000 for four wheels and tires), you had to wait three weeks for them to be shipped overseas and then back again.

Now that this one-of-a-kind machine has been relocated to the TCC, the waiting period has dropped to three days. So the hardship of having to drive your Ferrari instead of your Bugatti has been drastically reduced, saints be praised. While we truly were devastated there wasn’t a Bugatti in the room at the time of our tour, it was fun to say we at least enjoyed the aura of automotive greatness.