The era of mainstream electric vehicles is nearly upon us. Next month first deliveries of the Nissan Leaf will officially start and soon after the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle will be in showrooms. The major luxury automakers are a step behind but even they are focused on releasing a new generation of hybrids and pure electric vehicles in the near future.

One of the leaders in the luxury field is Audi, which has already shown off a barrage of concept vehicles and established the standalone e-tron electric vehicle department. Now the automaker has announced that it has commissioned a new development and testing center for electric drive systems at its Ingolstadt headquarters in Germany.

Audi invested approximately $100 million in the new building over the past two years. The 150,690 square-foot building houses numerous state-of-the-art test rigs, which can be used to test electric drive concepts. Over a total of seven stories, engineers initially test the individual components, then simulate the interaction of drive system, battery and power electronics, and finally assemble the entire drivetrain for testing. In the next testing phase, tests are run with the complete vehicle in the altitude simulation chamber and the deep-freeze testing rig, subjecting the cars to various climatic conditions at 13,779.53 feet in altitude and temperatures of -40°F to +140°F.

The building also houses a ‘think tank’ in which the employees can get together spontaneously in order to discuss problems.

Some of the first production models to be spawned from the new development center include the 2012 Audi Q5 Hybrid due next year and the R8 e-tron electric sports car in late 2012. The Q5 Hybrid, incidentally, has been confirmed for a world debut next week at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show. Check out our previous story for more details.