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Australia was ‘really close’ to Commodore EV
Spark of light: Axiflux says the research carried out by former battery-powered Holden Commodore developer EV Engineering will live on if a viable commercial partner joins the project.
New custodian of electric Commodore project carries on EV Engineering’s work
13 May 2014
AUSTRALIA came within a hair’s breadth of having an electric version of the
Holden Commodore on the market – priced for about $10,000 less than the cost of
General Motors’ fully imported Volt – the company now behind the project has
Melbourne-based electric motor development firm Axiflux has ended up with the
assets from the not-for-profit EV Engineering after the last remaining
joint-venture partners – Bosch Australia and Air International – pulled out in
the wake of GM’s decision late last year to quit Australian manufacturing in
2017 and switch off the tap for the project’s donor car, the locally built
Axiflux chief technology officer David Jahshan has now revealed to GoAuto that
at the time of GM’s decision, the project was close to securing funding for the
next round of development, which was to commercialise the two years of work
already put into the project and sell battery-powered Commodores for about
“EV Engineering got really, really close to actually having a product-ready
device,” Mr Jahshan said.
“And it’s really sad that the Australian car industry took a turn for the worst
at that particular time. It all comes down to timing, doesn’t it?”
According to Mr Jahshan, Axiflux joined the EV Engineering venture after work
on the electric Commodore had finished, and as the project’s partners started
talking about its next round of funding.
He said Axiflux had approached EV Engineering about trialling its new in-hub
motor that was capable of developing up to 1000Nm of torque, eventually joining
as a partner early last year.
“During that whole period we were just waiting for that next round to kick off,
and the whole thing was being held in a holding position until the powers that
be made a decision,” Mr Jahshan said.
“And then it was decided it wouldn’t go ahead, at which point we put EV
Engineering into a state where it was running but at a very low burn, basically
as a skeleton where there was a search for future partnerships, but no active
engineering development under the engineering umbrella.
“Over the next few months, though, the members started dropping out – Futuris
dropped out, Better Place disappeared, GE Finance as well, leaving just Bosch
and Air International.
Left: Axiflux chief technology officer David
“After Holden made the announcement they pulled out as
well, leaving Axiflux as
the sole partner.”
Even though the $3.6 million start-up assistance received under the former
Labor federal government’s now-defunct Green Car Innovation Fund has dried up,
Mr Jahshan said the fleet of seven electric Commodores that were created with
the money were still in use, and would probably run until they failed.
He said Bosch Australia had a couple of vehicles it was using, while another
had been loaned to Melbourne University for a study that will dramatically
enhance Axiflux’s understanding of how electric cars use, and abuse, their
“One of the
things I think is really missing is a comprehensive study of where the energy
in an electric vehicle goes,” Mr Jahshan said.
“One of the interesting things we saw in the Victorian EV trials was that the
charging stations themselves drew a whole lot of energy in standby mode, which
changed all the financial position, the pay-off time of an EV.
“We found that when we charged in-house we’re getting 1:5 cost benefit whereas
the Victorian government saw 1:3, and we’re just speculating but we’re
wondering if the charge stations were taking up that extra percentage.
“Having a really firm grasp of exactly where the energy goes inside an EV and
how the batteries degrade over time is vital, so we’re doing a research project
with Melbourne Uni over that,” he said.
While work on the automotive side of Axiflux’s business has hit what Mr Jahshan
said was “something of a slow burn”, he said the electric hub motor it has
developed could reignite the spark if the right project came along.
“In general, the feel for electric vehicles around the world has hit a null
patch,” he said. “There’s a lot of discussion about it and now it has sort of
petered off, but I think it is just taking a bit of a breather.
“And I’d be surprised if it doesn’t have a slow increase because of all the
positive factors that are involved with it.
“If you have a look at Tesla with the range in their battery packs to make it
more than an everyday drive. So there is a little bit of momentum building, and
it will be interesting to see where things go from here.”
Mr Jahshan said the big benefit to Axiflux to come out of the remnants of EV
Engineering was the pace at which it could develop an EV platform if required.
“In terms of the things that EV Engineering has, it has the technology to build
battery packs, it has the ability to integrate systems, to integrate the
battery with the motor and integrate it within a reasonable timeframe,” he said.
“I think from go to product it was about a year and a half – so all the product
knowledge is there for when a project that requires that sort of knowledge
However, finding that one big break would be more difficult without an
Australian car industry, he said.
“Where the biggest challenge is right now is that Australia is backing away
from the automotive industry, and finding the right partner has just become a
lot harder because there is no local partner,” Mr Jahshan said.
“That’s a real challenge. It’s going to have to be a non-local conglomerate, so
it’s not easy to find anyone local unless it’s a high-end sportscar … there are
a couple of other high-end sportscars in Australia, but that is such a small
“It needs to be financially viable for a development of that nature.
“That said, there are enquiries and because we are able to do that integration
work reasonably quickly, it could be attractive for an overseas producer to
come here and get us to do their integration for them, and then do the
In the meantime, Axiflux will concentrate on the industrial applications for
its motor, which are likely to offer the best return on the time invested in
development – which has received a big boost from the equipment set up by EV
Engineering and now housed at Axiflux’s Southbank factory.
“It was a huge boon for us blokes because, for example, what you saw out there,
the test rig, the 200kW motor, if we were to build our own rig like that it
would have cost us a couple of hundred thousand dollars,” Mr Jahshan said.
“And we just happened to have that part on the shelf left over from EV
Engineering. The same for the (Commodore’s removable) battery pack.
“For a growing start-up, having access to equipment like that rather than
basically having to pack up everything we want to test and take it to a test
rig, and then come back with results with two months later – it just adds such
a huge time cost and overhead.
“Having these tools at our disposal has meant that we can accelerate our
development, which has been fantastic.
“So out of the whole system, EV Engineering has been huge win for Axiflux in
terms of our ability to innovate, because we’re not spending all that time to
reinvent the wheel, so to speak.
“I can’t state how much of a fantastic outcome for Axiflux this has been. And
EV Engineering is still there in the background, so if the right project comes
along, EV Engineering would be the ‘vehicle’ that we do development under.”
So was the groundwork laid down by EV Engineering worthwhile?
“Absolutely,” Mr Jahshan said. “Will it result in the technology being rolled
out to vehicles? I really hope so.
“But again it all comes down to what commercially viable options there are to
follow through with.
“If the right opportunity does arise, then absolutely.”