Virtual Center LATAM

Innovation in Latin America: A Virtual Tour

  • Innovation in Latin America: A Virtual Tour

FCA LATAM uses virtual reality as an integral part of its product development process to deliver best-in-class quality, safety and reliability and optimize time-to-market

July 2, 2020 - FCA’s product development activities in Latin America are coordinated through the Giovanni Agnelli Research & Development Center in Betim, which is considered the automotive sector’s most advanced facility in the region. The Center manages more than 50 laboratories located at Group plants in Betim and Pernambuco, in Brazil, and Córdoba, in Argentina, with nearly 2,000 technicians and engineers conducting more than three million hours of virtual and physical tests every year.

By 2025, FCA brands in Latin America (Fiat, Jeep and Ram) are planning to launch some 25 new, significantly-refreshed and special series models. Advanced Virtual Reality (VR) systems at the Virtual Center, SIMCenter, Safety Center and Design Center play a key role in making the development process more efficient by enabling faster decision making, reducing costs, and improving safety and quality.

The Virtual Center

The recently opened Virtual Center LATAM, located at the Group’s Betim plant, brings the most advanced digital tools available to the world of automotive engineering and it serves as a connection point for the various development teams – from Product Engineering to Quality and Manufacturing, as well as suppliers and other experts involved in the process. This fully-integrated process covers the entire development phase, from concept briefing to final validation of the vehicle in its virtual stage. ­­The range of VR tools in use allows individual teams to propose and share design modifications with other collaborators more quickly, facilitating virtual testing at an advanced level. The first physical models are only built after the complex 3D and 4D simulations have been tested and validated.

Virtual Center LATAM
At the Virtual Center LATAM, advanced software creates immersive 3D models

The 800-square meter Center is divided into three areas. The first area is the Virtual Reality Room, where advanced software is used to create immersive 3D models of vehicles. Via a 150-inch screen with interactive 3D technology, teams can view a highly-detailed 3D model of the vehicle and interact using hand-held joysticks.

The Integrated Room uses 4D technology which enables interaction from an adaptable cockpit. The use of a wireless virtual reality headset creates a fully immersive experience similar to being inside a real car.

In the Auto Shop, designs that have been approved in the virtual phase comes to life through materials such as resin, carbon fiber and glass fiber, including components created with 3D printing technology. A series of physical tests are then conducted in a controlled environment.

The Most Advanced Vehicle Dynamics Simulator in the Southern Hemisphere

While the adaptable cockpit in the Virtual Center allows us to experience being inside a car before a physical prototype is actually built, the SIMCenter takes the experience to another level. This vehicle dynamics simulation center uses a motion platform to emulate the ride and handling of a vehicle in a fully-controlled virtual environment, closely duplicating the actual driving experience with real-time feedback.

These simulations enable definition of the technical and functional characteristics of the components that determine a vehicle’s dynamics – such as shock absorbers, springs, stabilizer bars – without having to go to a test track. They also assist in identifying design changes much earlier in the development process, thereby reducing product development times and project validation costs.

The simulator can be used to test any vehicle, road surface or driving environment and the tests are conducted by professional drivers experienced in evaluating the dynamic behavior of vehicles on track.

The SIMCenter, housed at the PUC University of Minas Gerais near the Group’s Betim plant, was created as a multi-disciplinary environment for collaboration. The Center is used by FCA engineers and technicians as well as professors, students and researchers from a variety of disciplines such as architecture, medicine and physiotherapy.

SIMCenter cockpit in Belo Horizonte (Brazil)
In-vehicle dynamics analysis, bridging the gap between physical testing and simulation

A Benchmark in Safety

Safety is another important aspect of a vehicle’s overall performance. Well before the first physical crash tests, the crashworthiness of the vehicle’s body, components and systems are assessed in numerous virtual impact tests. Everything is calibrated to the millisecond to ensure maximum accuracy of the test data, including driver and passenger behavior and pedestrian protection. Engineers analyze the behavior of each component of the car in this virtual world down to the smallest detail to ensure the optimal choice of materials, geometries, thickness, fastenings, welding and adhesives, based on the target performance specifications.

To complement the virtual process, the Giovanni Agnelli Research & Development Center also houses the Safety Center where physical tests are conducted. Inaugurated in July 2019, the Safety Center has an area of 7,600 m² and a 130-meter track, with an impact testing capacity of up to 4 tons at 100 km/h. In the past, all vehicles created in Latin America underwent crash tests in Group laboratories in the US and Europe. Now, with the addition of the new Safety Center, FCA LATAM is fully independent in its vehicle development process.

Crash test at LATAM Safety Center
The Safety Center gave FCA LATAM 100% independence in the vehicle development process


Design and user experience are also key to the development of successful products. With an area of 2,700 square meters and some 150 creative professionals, the LATAM Design Center manages all design activities for Fiat, Jeep and Ram brand models developed in the Region.

One of the Center’s greatest assets is the User Experience (UX) lab, the first in the automotive sector in Brazil. The space has simulators specially developed to test the usability of interface and connectivity solutions, making virtual testing an integral part of the development process. Using Artificial Intelligence, the vehicle’s systems can realistically interact by, for example, accelerating or braking in response to real-world factors. And the platform is modular, allowing the components of one model to be quickly exchanged with those of another model.

Another Design Center tool allows simulation of various internal and external elements such as colors, materials and textures. This tool is also widely used in the initial phase of projects, before physical models are built.

UX Lab Simulator
In the UX Lab simulator, customers test the usability of interface and connectivity solutions

“New technologies, such as virtual reality, facilitate development of truly world-class products and also our people. At the Giovanni Agnelli R&D Center, we have brought together a comprehensive range of advanced tools that enable FCA to be even more innovative, agile and customer-oriented.”

Márcio Tonani, Director of Product Development FCA LATAM

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