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50 Years of Dudenhofen: From Proving Ground to Opel Test Center

Jul 13, 2016

  • Tough going: Testing cars in Dudenhofen since 1966
  • Taking a break: Opel celebrates anniversary and reopening on September 10
  • Way ahead: Extensive renovation for test center of the future
  • Tales from Dudenhofen: Fat trees, wild horses and driver training

Opel News - On the “torture track” at the Opel Test Center, suspension and chassis components are subjected to the highest stress

Rüsselsheim.  The Opel “proving ground” in Dudenhofen, as it was known at the time, opened 50 years ago. Ever since, countless Opel cars had to face the toughest tests on their way to production. Right from the start, the proving ground was continuously extended and modernized. In the meantime, it has become the largest and most important Opel test center in Europe. Opel will celebrate Dudenhofen’s half-century with an open day on September 10. Fans and employees will get an exclusive “behind the scenes” look at the way the test center operates. In addition, Opel will present the expended attendance of around 20,000 – including many famous faces from the world of politics, sport and economy – with a colorful show around the models and the brand’s motorsports commitment.

No mercy, right from the start

Opel News - Even the Opel ADAM Rocks has to prove it has what it takes to survive in the urban jungle, by undergoing the hardest testing at the Opel Test Center

At the beginning, in April 1966, the 2.6 square kilometer proving ground has a combination of various streets and roads with a total length of 33 kilometers. Then as now, engineers show no mercy when it comes to testing new developments.For example, on the five-kilometer long, 33-degree banked, high-speed circuit that encloses the proving ground. Alternatively, they take to the “skid pad”, a concreted area with a diameter of 100 meters. It is used to determine the steering behavior or to measure the swerving of the vehicle in corners precisely. In the 1980s, a 4.4-kilometer long “sound and comfort track” is added. In 1992, the entire high-speed circuit is renewed in 24 weeks due to the heavy use. Ever since, the circuit, sound and comfort track, skid pad, hill, handling and torture tracks enable extensive vehicle test and development work on engines, brakes, steering or chassis.

Taking the corner at 250 km/h – with no hands on the steering wheel

Opel News - Since 1966 every Opel model has been put to the test at the Opel Test Center, including the suspension and brakes

The area is extended successively. In 2004, an oval track with watering and drainage system for slingshot tests and slalom drives is added. An all-wheel drive test bench follows in 2006 along with a modern industrial gasoline station with 32 pumps for 16 different types of fuel. Since the second circuit renewal in 2012, test drivers can take the steep curve at 250 km/h without the influence of any lateral force – they can even theoretically take their hands of the steering wheel. This is how the previously calculated target values for example for the top speed look in reality. The internal weather station delivers data on humidity, wind speed and direction. This is complemented by the highly sensitive sensors embedded in the road surface – they permanently deliver data on the temperature and dampness of the surface so that these can be considered in the test result. And obviously the tracks need to be prepared for the test according to the weather conditions.


When new vehicles such as the current Opel Astra are put through their paces in Dudenhofen it means them facing around 40,000 kilometers of extreme stress on the proving ground. The distance is equivalent to over 200,000 kilometers or 15 years on “real roads”. Added to that are countless kilometers on other proving grounds and public roads all over the world. The latest Opel compact underwent strains that are equivalent to those of an entire lifecycle in only 24 weeks.


One of the many decisive tests that the Astra was subjected to is the “endurance test”. The endurance track offers various different road surfaces such as asphalt and cobblestone, bumps and numerous corners. Here the engineers check whether the performance and quality of the prototypes that they determined and validated made it into regular production.


Investments for vehicle development of the future

Opel News - Since the second renovation of the Opel Test Center’s high-speed circuit in 2012, test drivers are able to negotiate the course at 250 km/h without the effect of lateral forces

Opel started the largest expansion and modernization project in Dudenhofen to date in 2013. The company will invest a high two-digit figure in the area located to the southeast of Frankfurt with almost 65 kilometers of test tracks by 2020. Currently, the new access road that leads to the reception building and the parking area has already been completed. Furthermore, the new chassis workshop with a large tire storage area for up to 8,000 wheel / tires along with three new engine test benches could be inaugurated. The “long straight” – a two-kilometer long straight with a multilane return loop and angled corners – is also already in use. The angle of these aforementioned corners has been determined so that all four wheel carry the same load when passing. This allows for brake tests at the end of course delivering results as if the car had also been driving straight on.


A new 300-meter-diameter skid pad is under construction here, which will enable testing of automated driving. The straight will have then the shape of a funnel that widens from 30 meters to 300 meters.“A Boeing 737 could easily land there,” says Dr. Matthias Schollmaier, Director of the Opel Test Center. The “long straight” is the first element to actually been outside the original area and runs parallel to the adjacent main road. For this reason, additional land had to be purchased from the city.


Opel is also increasing the capacities for testing of driver assistance systems in Rodgau-Dudenhofen with the creation of a new track for Automated Emergency Braking. “We have big plans”, says Schollmaier. “Amongst others, we are looking at a warehouse for emergency vehicles and servicing material, additional offices, two multi-storey car parks and a new canteen to cater for the growing number of employees.” In addition, the overall length of the test tracks will be increased to 90 kilometers in the next few years. Furthermore, powertrain test benches, track extensions and new routes will be added to meet various demands. The number of employees in the ultra-modern Dudenhofen Test and Development Center will then increase from 150 to 700.

Tales from Dudenhofen:

“Fat pine“ and Przewalski’s horses

Environmental protection is not only important during testing – it plays an important role for the proving ground area itself. The on-site gasoline station now has over 16 different types of fuel and charging stations for electric cars are also available. “The entire lighting systems will be switched to LED shorty so that we become even more efficient,” said Schollmaier. The use of an internal thermal power station is also a topic for the future. During the planning period of the area the people responsible already tried to maintain as much of the tree population as possible – not only because it provides valuable protection from prototype hunters. The oldest pine in Hesse can still be found on the middle of the area – the tree, nicknamed “dicke Tanne” (fat pine) is around 275 years old.


Furthermore, rare Przewalski’s horses can be seen grazing in the neighbourhood of the Opel Test Center. The animals are part of a nature conservation project near Babenhausen that Opel has supported since 2009. Opel AG financed the project with €900,000 and is cooperating with the Federal Forest Department Schwarzenborn and the Federal Agency for Public Property. The expansion of the Rodgau-Dudenhofen Test Center are compensated by the intensive support for the nature reserve.

How it all began

The ultra-modern Opel Test Center owes its existence to a fortunate coincidence. Dudenhofen’s former mayor Ludwig Kratz received a thick envelope addressed to the “Mayor of Dudenhofen” in 1963. The postcode was missing. Kratz read in the letter from the estate agent that an international automotive company had been negotiating with the community of Dudenhofen in the Palatinate region for some time as they were looking to create a new proving ground. The clever mayor took the initiative and offed an area in the forest belonging to his town – Rodgau-Dudenhofen – as an alternative. Opel agreed to the deal after all the uncertainties had been clarified. The sales contract was signed on October 15, 1964. The success story of the Test Center began and along with it the excellent and close cooperation with the city of Rodgau.


The employees of the Opel Test Center work in three shifts seven days a week. Every day all the test drivers together rack up a total of around 40,000 kilometers. They go through up to 500 tires per month.

The events

No matter whether it is car presentations, driver or OPC performance training, the Opel Test Center is no longer strictly closed to the public but instead offers the ideal setting for all sorts of events hosted by partners, customers and guests of Opel.