A powertrain and vehicle engineering company spread its technical tentacles with the recent opening of a Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Development Center (HEVDC) in Auburn Hills, MI.
FEV Inc. invested $8 million in a facility that provides "unique equipment and capabilities that are necessary to facilitate the development of hybrid and electric vehicles," according to Joachim Wolschendorf, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of the Vehicle and Drivetrain Engineering Division for FEV.
The 30,000-ft2 HEVDC is flush with equipment, including eight hybrid powertrain test sites, two hybrid transmission test rigs, electric motor test rigs, and an electric vehicle charging station as well as battery emulation systems for simulating and testing batteries up to 900 V. "We see a trend for higher voltage battery systems in passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles," Wolschendorf said. In the coming weeks, the center's offerings will grow with "the capability to conduct NVH development for electric and hybrid propulsion systems in our anechoic test cells," said Wolschendorf.
A hybrid chassis dynamometer, a centerpiece of the new center, enables a hybrid or electric vehicle to operate without a battery when used in conjunction with battery emulation systems. "Based on FEV's experience in several alternative propulsion vehicle programs, those programs frequently were delayed—sometimes by a few weeks or by a few months—due to the unavailability of batteries," said Wolschendorf, adding, "With this new hybrid chassis dynamometer, vehicle system testing can continue by simulating the battery, thus reducing the overall development time significantly."
The FEV Dodge Caliber five-door hatchback and the Raser Technologies-FEV Hummer H3 SUV range-extended electric vehicles—both showcased at the SAE 2009 World Congress in Detroit—spent time in the HEVDC. "The availability of the battery emulation systems and the hybrid chassis dynamometer helped to continue the vehicle development (process) while battery issues were being worked out. We could access and test the vehicle without interruption by simulating the battery with the battery emulation systems," explained Wolschendorf.
Between 30 and 35 engineers and technicians are assigned to the HEVDC. The mechanical and electrical engineers are specialists in the areas of high-voltage systems, battery management, controls and strategy development as well as calibration and powertrain integration. "We have been developing the staff and resources over several years with the goal of having trained personnel to operate the HEVDC. As of February of this year, we ramped up to more than 300 employees in Auburn Hills, which is also home to FEV's North American technical center," Wolschendorf said.
The automotive industry's imbalance is influencing hiring plans. "Given the current economy, we are not planning to additionally increase our headcount in the short term. However, when the economy begins to grow again, we will continue with expanding our personnel base," Wolschendorf said.
Having specialized equipment that aids in the development of hybrid and electric vehicles is crucial to FEV's advanced technology strategy. "FEV has started to install similar capabilities in our facilities in Germany based on the demonstrated advantages for all hybrid and electric vehicle projects," noted Wolschendorf. Among the in-progress Michigan HEVDC programs: hybrid vehicles, range-extended electric vehicles, and pure electric vehicles. "All of these programs benefit from the availability of the HEVDC," said Wolschendorf.