Back in April, we were privileged to be part of the international press launch of the Peugeot RCZ, which is not only great to look at, but very nice to drive as well (click here to read the report). The event took us to the Basque country in northern Spain, but local Peugeot distributor Nasim Sdn Bhd made extra effort to organise a visit to PSA Peugeot Citroën’s Automotive Design Network (ADN) located in Velizy, a small suburb just outside Paris.

ADN was opened back in 2004 at a cost of 130 million euros to PSA Peugeot Citroën, and while both French brands share this facility, their respective design studios are separate, an arrangement described as “a solution that promotes healthy competition”. Housing about 900 employees from more than 20 countries, this 70,000 square metre 3-storey building acts as a “genetic nursery” for Peugeot. I suppose you could say that the new Peugeot design language found on the 508 was born here.

ADN is entirely dedicated to automobile design, including conducting, applying and enhancing the engineering and design studies that precede and support the creation process. It is equipped with resources for R&D, creation (styling studios), as well as for producing prototypes (milling machines, paint and assembly workshops). Models from 1:1 scale units, see through models to fully working concept cars are made here.

Security was very tight (two huge guys who look like club bouncers accompanied us the whole time) and our cameras weren’t allowed in so unfortunately we can’t show you what we saw. Passing through a labyrinth of corridors and stairs, we arrived at the Virtual Reality Center, where we were allowed to experiment with 3D simulation tools such as the Holobench, Scale 1 screen and the Cave system. It was like being in the Motion Master but with the ability to touch and effect the elements.

We were also brought to a huge dome-roofed arena with the Peugeot 408 parked in the middle. Here, the car’s chief designer Ivo Groen walked us through the 308-based sedan’s design, aided by remote controlled lighting from direct, overhead daylight to artificial light. Apparently, the unit we saw and sat in was the first full working model that was shown to Peugeot bosses.

The lively Groen, who owns an Alfa Romeo GTV6 and a 1971 Lamborghini Espada among other cars, explained that the choice of a more subtle face over the “wide mouthed” look familiar to us was intentional, as the sedan is meant to be less aggressive and controversial. The strips of chrome around the car are to evoke elegance. In the metal, the 408’s proportions are tidy for a “converted” sedan, and the very simple rear end reminded me of the 406.

Earlier this month, Peugeot and Naza penned a deal for the latter to assemble a three-box C-segment car, which most likely is the 408, although the “408” name is for the Chinese market and isn’t confirmed for ours. Assembly of this model, codenamed T73, will begin in the second quarter of 2011.