Mahle Powertrain said it had helped “a major vehicle manufacturer” to overcome testing challenges posed by travel restrictions during the Covid crisis.

Use of the hypobaric and climatic capability of the company’s Real Driving Emissions Centre in Northampton, UK, enabled the replication of real-world drive cycles without the requirement for global travel normally associated with altitude testing.

This mitigated risk and significantly reduced testing time and cost when compared to traditional methods and could result in a permanent change in the way testing is approached.

“Travel restrictions had the potential to generate a significant backlog in testing – [we] managed to not only avoid delays during delivery of a programme but devised a more streamlined, cost effective test schedule that could be completed faster than normally anticipated,” said Thomas Brooks, Mahle Powertrain’s head of calibration. “We think it’s the first example of a manufacturer completing an RDE test programme, including at attitude, in the UK.”

Engineer time combined with travel and subsistence costs can very quickly reach significant sums even for relatively modest test programmes.

The main advantage of the UK facility is the ability to test in a precisely controlled environment that can replicate any necessary test condition. This includes aggressive climbs on a 4WD chassis dyno up to 5,000m with relevant barometric pressures, variable road gradients at temperatures between -40C and +50C, and humidity levels of between 10% and 80%.

“The vehicle manufacturer carried out eight mountain test runs over a three day period which would normally take 9-10 days plus travel and engineer time – with no guarantee of the stable conditions necessary for good test data,” added Brooks. “This test programme provided a guarantee of safety – from Covid and day to day road incidents – and crucially, repeatability. There are a number of factors to consider when extending physical location testing, such as logistics, accommodation, engineer time and vehicle shipping. It is much easier to simply book another day of test chamber time. This could mark the start of a real shift in the way powertrain test programmes are planned.”

Mahle Powertrain is building an additional climatic chamber which will be ready early in 2022.