Renault and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen will invest jointly in a new dual wind tunnel facility in near Paris.
The Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM), a French government-funded body for industrial research, is also involved in the project.
The three partners will share the E32 million investment equally. The announcement comes as car manufacturers worldwide step up aerodynamic research to cut fuel consumption and pollution.
The wind tunnels will be built by 2004 on a CNAM site at Saint-Cyr-l'Ecole near Paris. They will 'put France's research capacity on aerodynamics and aero acoustics on a par with the best in Europe,' said PSA spokesman Mark Bocque. 'These new wind tunnels will give us total independence and confidentiality.'
Renault and PSA have been renting existing CNAM wind tunnels on the Saint-Cyr-l'Ecole site. But they were forced to make trials in research centers abroad because CNAM's tunnel technology is outmoded. For example, PSA has been using wind tunnels in Turin, Stuttgart and Emmeloord, the Netherlands.
A key feature of the new wind tunnels will be a moving floor, compared to fixed floors in the old CNAM wind tunnels. The new tunnels have deadening walls and ceilings to eliminate external noises.
The new wind tunnels will be near both PSA's research center in Velizy and Renault's in Guyancourt. 'Because the new wind tunnels will be close to our research centers, the development time of our cars will be shorter,' Bocque said.
The two French manufacturers will have priority access to the new wind tunnels, but other carmakers will be able to rent them.
In 2000, PSA conducted 350 aerodynamics trials at an average of nine hours each, or 3,150 hours. It also conducted computer trials equivalent to 75,000 hours.
'There is no way computer trials can make real trials redundant,' Bocque said. Improved aerodynamics lowers fuel consumption and reduces CO2 emissions when cars run above 90kph.
PSA and Renault also cooperate in other fields. They share research on road accidents. A jointly owned subsidiary, la Francaise de Mecanique, is developing V6 engines and automatic gearboxes.
For 14 months ending in November, PSA and Renault conducted joint research on building a fuel cell-powered car by 2010. A Renault spokeswoman said: 'We may or may not resume our cooperation in that field.'