Mahle Powertrain has broken ground on development of the new test chamber located at its Real Driving Emissions (RDE) Centre in Northampton, UK.

The chamber is a response to high levels of demand for the company’s facilities and will be optimised to develop and validate electric vehicle powertrains.

The GBP5.1m (US$7.2m) investment complements the existing capability of the RDE Centre, which opened in 2018 and will also provide the automotive industry with additional specific hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle testing capacity. The opening is slated for Spring, 2022.

“The demand for this facility reflects the agile, fast-paced evolution of the automotive industry’s current push for development of advanced powertrain technologies,” said Mahle Powertrain head of engineering, David Pates.

“Vehicle manufacturer and Tier 1 customers realised the time and cost benefits of utilising our first test chamber during lockdown and this investment will further broaden our capabilities as the industry emerges from the pandemic having adopted new, more flexible ways of working.”

The GBP5.1m investment is being part-funded by a GBP1.5m grant from the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP), a public-private sector-led organisation tasked with promoting economic growth in the region.

“We are really pleased to be able to support Mahle Powertrain’s continuing investment into EV development at Northampton” added SEMLEP director of Programmes and Governance, Judith Barker.

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“Enhancing technologies and decarbonising our transport choices is very much aligned to our Local Industrial Strategy priorities and the ambitions of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. We look forward to this further success and see this new facility as an important part in supporting the economic recovery of the South East Midlands post COVID-19.”

Demand for Mahle’s Powertrain’s first hypobaric and climatic test chamber pushed capacity in the last 12 months, when the company signed off whole vehicle test programmes to overcome travel restrictions. The second chamber, with an operational temperature range of -20C to 40C, will be equipped with a battery emulator for EV testing and will also be capable of simulating solar loading.

It has been designed with blast walls and a domed chamber roof as in-built safety measures for the handling of hydrogen.

“We estimate 73% of passenger cars globally will still feature an internal combustion engine by 2035, and over 50% by 2040, so we don’t anticipate any drop in the high level of demand experienced for our first chamber,” noted Pates. “For this reason, it made sense for the latest investment to complement our existing capability by increasing its specific focus on electrification and hydrogen-fuelled powertrain.

“We believe the ability to provide facilities dedicated to the industry’s diverse propulsion requirements will be extremely beneficial for ambitious manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers.”

Breaking ground on its new development follows Mahle Powertrain’s opening of a new e-axle test facility in Fellbach, Germany.

The company will also open a new battery pack build and test facility in Northampton later in 2021.