£5m test chamber opens to meet ‘unprecedented’ demand from electric vehicle sector

Mar 30, 2021

MAHLE Powertrain’s facility in Northampton

ENGINEERING specialist MAHLE Powertrain has unveiled its plans to build a second test chamber at its facility in Northampton.

The company opened its existing climactic test facility three years ago but “unprecedented” demand has led to the decision to invest in a second building.

The new test chamber, costing more than £5 million, will add to MAHLE Powertrain’s development work for the electric vehicle sector. It will develop and validate electric vehicle performance under wide-ranging climatic conditions and will be equipped with a four-wheel drive dyno and a battery emulator, as well as safety measures to enable testing of vehicles powered by hydrogen. 

The existing test chamber has run at full capacity since it opened in July 2018. MAHLE’s research estimates that in 2035, 73% of passenger cars around the world will use an internal combustion engine as part of their propulsion system, with more than 50% still ICE-powered in 2040.

The company expects demand for the existing test chamber is forecast to continue as ICE development refocuses on hybridised units.

Head of engineering David Pates said: “This next phase of our on-going investment programme at the RDE Centre will provide vital extra facilities for our vehicle manufacturer and tier 1 customers.

“Since the original opening in July 2018, our hypobaric and climatic test chamber has been in virtually constant use. This was even the case during lock-down conditions last year, when we helped manufacturers to sign off whole vehicle test programmes despite Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

“While avoiding costly delays at the time, it also points the way to a reliable, faster and more cost-effective way to undertake such programmes post-pandemic.”

The second chamber makes perfect sense, he added. It will operate at temperatures between -20oC and +40oC. For hydrogen-fuelled vehicle development, MAHLE Powertrain is building in safety measures such as blast walls and a domed chamber roof for stray H2 gas collection. 

The new chamber is expected to welcome its first customers early next year. A significant battery pack testing facility is due to open at Northampton later this year.

The £5.1 million investment is being part-funded by a £1.5 million grant from the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership.

Its director of programmes and governance Judith Barker said: “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.”

Mr Pates said: “Our heritage is founded on ICE development, dating back to the first Cosworth road car engines, and since those times we have some notable landmark engines to our credit. However, back in 2008 we could see the way the future of the automotive industry was developing and have been keenly focused on our dual propulsion strategy of ICE and electrification for over a decade now.

“There has never been a more technically challenging time in auto powertrain development and our aim is, as always, to help our customers develop the most effective powertrain possible within their budget and timescale.”

The new investment is the latest in a series in MAHLE Powertrain’s facilities around the world, including a new powertrain dyno at its facility in Michigan, USA and a new e-axle test facility in Germany. which will open later in 2021.

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