HOLDEN has trimmed the Commodore’s fuel consumption to less than nine litres per 100km for the first time, but the new ‘VF’ Commodore range confirmed for release in just two years will be even more frugal.
The entry-level 3.0-litre Commodore Omega sedan and wagon will come with an official consumption figure of 8.9L/100km when upgraded and facelifted MY12 versions of Australia’s top-selling car are released in mid-September, Holden announced this week.
But company chairman and managing director Mike Devereux told the first Alternative Fuels Summit in Brisbane this week that GM Holden has targeted “mid-eights” fuel consumption for the next-generation that will arrive sooner than expected in 2013.
“When we launched VE (Commodore) in 2006 we had about 10.8L/100km in the Omega and over the last five or six years we’ve been able to take that down to 8.9,” Mr Devereux was quoted by News Limited as saying.
“That’s an 18 per cent improvement in fuel economy. It's largely due to our approach to things like direct-injection, a smarter approach to the way air flows underneath the vehicle and tiny things like a change last year to the tailgate of the vehicle to make air flow more efficiently off the back of the vehicle.
“So there are ways to improve the old internal combustion engine and right now our fuel economy targets of 8.9 we are trying to take down to the mid-eights as we go forward into our next gen of Commodore, which is about two years from now.”
Mr Devereux confirmed the next Commodore would be more efficient after a “significant light-weighting” program, including aluminium panels and other technical advances such as electric power steering.
For now, the MY12 Commodore range due in production this month will be two and three per cent more economical at base level, with the Omega 3.0L SIDI auto sedan and wagon returning 8.9L/100km (down from a respective 9.1 and 9.2L/100km), with a corresponding CO2 emissions cut, to 210 grams per kilometre for both models.
Automatic versions of the 3.6-litre SV6 and Calais/Calais V sedan will also be three per cent more fuel-efficient, at 9.5L/100km, while the 3.0-litre Berlina Sportwagon will be use two per cent less fuel (9.2L/100km), and the Calais/Calais V Sportwagon auto (9.8L/100km), SV6 Ute auto and Caprice V6 will also be one per cent less thirsty at 9.8L/100km. All other Commodore models remain unchanged.
Holden says the efficiency gains are due to a series of detail running changes, including “on-going vehicle mass reduction”, an improved automatic transmission that reduces mechanical losses for all V6 models, a revised torque converter for 3.0 SIDI V6 variants and a reworked air-conditioning system that draws less operating power.
Apart from arming Holden with a timely spoiler for Ford’s facelifted Falcon, which is due on sale in October, and the redesigned Aurion that Toyota will launch next April, the MY12 Commodore line-up will move further ahead of its Australian-made large sedan rivals in terms of fuel consumption – for now.
At 8.9L/100km, Holden’s most efficient Commodore is now a full litre/100km more frugal than Ford’s most efficient Falcon (XT auto sedan: 9.9L/100km) and Toyota’s most efficient Aurion (AT-X auto sedan: 9.9L/100km), and almost lineball with Australia’s other fleet favourite, the Melbourne-made Camry (Altise auto sedan: 8.8L/100km).
However, Ford is expected to lower that benchmark to about 8.0L/100km when its first four-cylinder Falcon – fitted with a 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbo-petrol engine – arrives next February, two months before Toyota’s new Aurion V6 hits dealers with an expected consumption figure of about 9.3L/100km.
Before then in November, Toyota’s lighter new Camry will land with fuel consumption that will also start around 8.0L/100km, while the efficiency of next February’s hybrid version should improve by a similar amount, from 6.0L to less than 5.5L/100km.
Currently, Holden’s Cruze diesel manual is the most efficient Australian-made vehicle, at 5.6L/100km.
The lower official ADR 81/02 fuel consumption figures for the MY12 Commodore range, which will also come with “subtle design enhancements and other features which will be announced closer to start of production this month”, apply only to petrol-fuelled models.
However, Holden this week also announced all MY12 Commodores would also be ethanol-capable, following production of an E85-compatible 3.6-litre version of GM’s Port Melbourne-built V6.
This month’s release of E85-compliant 3.6 SIDI models follows the launch of the E85 3.0-litre V6 and 6.0-litre V8 models with the MY11 Commodore range last September, and the release of direct-injection SIDI versions of the 3.0 and 3.6 V6 models with the MY10 Commodore line-up in 2009.
The cleaner-burning fuel blend of up to 85 per cent ethanol – made in Australia from the waste by-product of wheat and sugar, sorghum and potentially household garbage – and 15 per cent petrol is only available from selected Caltex service stations on Australia’s east coast.
“The entire Commodore range is now flex-fuel capable, Caltex and other fuel retailers are making high ethanol-blend fuels available and we are working with our consortium partners to build Australia’s first second-generation ethanol plant to turn rubbish into fuel,” said Mr Devereux at the Alternative Fuels Summit in Brisbane on August 30.
“Commodore drivers who run their car on bio-ethanol/E85 can reduce their well-to-wheel CO2 emissions by up to 40 per cent compared to petrol.”
News Limited also reported Mr Devereux as saying at the summit that E85 capability adds about $100 to the cost of each vehicle, which represents the cost of its “strategic decision” to make every Commodore E85-compliant.
“That's not free. Holden has actually invested ahead of wide availability of the fuel (ethanol) across the country. I don't want you to cry for Holden because it's a strategic decision we're making, but it costs us about $100 per car to make those vehicles capable of running on E85.
“We put a stake in the ground and said every Commodore will be capable of running on E85.'”
GM Holden energy and environment director Richard Marshall told GoAuto this week the company remains committed to E85 and that ethanol-ready engines would continue to be available across the new MY14 Commodore range.
“That’s what we want to do,” he said. “We’ve got it on the car now and we’re committed to it at this stage for the long term.”
Mr Devereux also revealed at the summit that Holden’s alternative fuel strategy would take another step early next year, when it launches its first dedicated-LPG system for the Commodore with an under-floor LPG tank that does not impinge on load space – one of the major drawbacks of LPG vehicles.
“For some people it’s kind of disconcerting when you open up the back of the car you see this very high-tech looking tank full of LPG,” he said.
“Our Commodore early next year will take the tank out of the back of the vehicle and put it under the vehicle, freeing up that space. It's all about removing the barriers and the perception that 'oh my god, there's a bomb in the boot' thing and making LPG seem like a very reasonable, easy to adopt technology.'”
It is not yet clear how or if Holden will offer a spare tyre with its dedicated LPG Commodore models, but Falcon LPi models come with a smaller 464-litre boot than conventional petrol-powered models (535 litres) and are fitted as standard with a tyre repair kit, while a temporary spare is a no-cost option and a full-size spare costs $250.
As GoAuto has reported, the Commodore’s mono-fuel LPG system will remain a vapour-based system – unlike the liquid-injection system offered by HSV models and Ford’s new Falcon LPi range – but should bring significant advances over the model’s existing dual-fuel LPG system.
“Alternative fuels like bio-ethanol and LPG offer great potential for Australia through reduced CO2 emissions, regional development and energy independence,” said Mr Devereux.
“Bringing more dedicated LPG and flex-fuel vehicles to market will help drive demand for these Australian-made fuels and demystify and make people aware of the benefits they offer.”
According to News Limited, Mr Devereux said Australia could become a world centre for LPG expertise over the next five years.
“Ford actually have a fantastic new LPi system in their Falcon and we are launching an all-new mono-fuel LPG system in our Commodore next year,” he said.
“It is incredibly naturally abundant and the technologies to run this fuel are all here in this country.”
Mr Devereux said Holden’s alternative fuel drive would run in parallel to his company’s efficiency strategy, which includes improving aerodynamics, electric power steering and light-weighting, which together are expected to cut Commodore’s thirst by about seven per cent at the cost of at least $160 million.
A quarter of that ($39.8 million) will be paid by the federal government from its now defunct Green Car Innovation Fund.
“And as well as adding flex-fuel capability, we aim to continuously improve Commodore with every model year,” he said.
“Our engineers and designers are constantly striving to improve fuel efficiency and performance and to enhance the look and feel of the car for our customers.
“Our team is currently working on innovative weight-saving features like aluminium body panels and exploring the potential benefits of other technologies like electronic power steering.
“It’s this sort of engineering commitment that makes Holden one of the country’s largest R&D investors, it keeps Australia at the forefront of automotive innovation and reflects the importance of co-investing in this high-tech industry.”
While this month’s upgraded MY12 Commodore range is likely to be the last major change before Holden’s redesigned VE-based ‘VF’ Commodore line-up emerges in 2013, next month’s Falcon facelift could carry Ford’s homegrown large-car through to an all-new model in 2016.
Both Ford and Holden are this year expected to decide the fundamental make-up of their next-generation large cars – including whether they will continue to be based on a front, rear, or all-wheel drive chassis architecture – before the next all-new Commodore appears around 2018.