News - Holden Commodore
Commodore EV-maker looks to plug-in hybrid
Electric feel: Could Holden's VF Commodore cop a range-extender hybrid drivetrain?
EV Engineering adds range-extending hybrid Commodore to project wishlist
23 July 2013
THE driving force behind Australia’s first fleet of electrified Holden
Commodores says it wants to build a Volt-like plug-in hybrid version paired
with a range-extending petrol engine.
EV Engineering chief executive Ian McCleave has told GoAuto that a ‘series
hybrid’ version of the once strong-selling large car is part of the
Melbourne-based electric car conversion company’s long-term plans.
“With the appropriate backing, it is something we’d like to look at,” Mr
McCleave said in an interview marking the halfway point of a two-year trial
looking at the viability of converting large, fuel-thirsty cars to battery
“And I think that given the trend at the moment seems to be moving from solid
transmission to pure electric, so using powertrain architectures like series
hybrid as a transition phase would suggest that that is not a bad way to go.”
The plug-in hybrid Commodore would have a similar set-up to the Holden Volt,
with a small petrol engine extending the range – and reducing driver anxiety –
beyond pure-electric propulsion.
However, rather than provide power to the wheels, a series hybrid Commodore’s
engine would instead run a generator to feed electricity back into the bank of
Mr McCleave said the Commodore’s layout, with the battery pack hidden away
where the conventional drivetrain had been housed, suited the series hybrid
“Well, you might put it (the engine) under the bonnet or you might put it in
the rear of the car as some other brands have proposed,” Mr McCleave said.
“So there’s a number of opportunities for a series hybrid arrangement – you
have a few choices there.”
A year into its trial of seven Commodores converted to run on electricity
rather than petrol or LPG, EV Engineering’s landscape is looking very different
to when the company was formed in early 2011.
It has also since lost a major financial backer – the Australian arm of Better
Place, which slowed down considerably in Australia after its Israel-based
parent company burnt through almost $1 billion in funding and declared
bankruptcy earlier this year.
“As you know we scaled back our activities after we finished the Commodores,”
Mr McCleave said.
“You probably realise at the time we were looking to do an extension of that
project. Of course that was dependent on a few factors.
“The easy one was to demonstrate the performance of the car and the capability
of it, and I think we did that pretty successfully, so I think that was a
“But it was also dependent, of course, on ongoing support from Better Place.
They were a significant funder of the project and we were a significant
contributor to their marketing efforts. I think that has now gone pretty quiet.
“Better Place Australia is still operating and it is still on our members list.
But globally they are in receivership so … I believe in fact they have found a
buyer for the Israeli operation, which is good, so the Israel recharging
infrastructure will continue to be supported, which is encouraging.
“I think a lot of people still feel there is technical merit in the Better
Also lost is a battery-powered version of the Ford Territory SUV, developed
with Better Place money by automotive technology and motorsport group Prodrive
The electric Territory was built before EV Engineering started work on its
cars, and was used as a promotional tool to encourage businesses to invest in
Better Place’s vision of an Australia-wide network of recharging and
Mr McCleave said the Territory EV has since been stripped of its components,
including its aftermarket battery pack, and scrapped.
However, the same fate will not befall the electric Commodores at the end of
their trials, with Mr McCleave keen to preserve one as an example of
Commodore-based Australian ingenuity alongside the ECOmmodore, a hybrid version
of the large car built by Holden and the CSIRO in 2000.
While it has lost a major backer, EV Engineering is also potentially losing the
source of its inspiration – the Holden Commodore large car – after the
car-maker started making noises that the future of the big-engined,
rear-wheel-drive platform was limited.
“We would have had to move to another platform (beyond the current Commodore),
and get support to do that, which would have been technically possible,” Mr
McCleave said. “But again, it needs financial support and backers and so on.”
Also working against it is what appeared to be a worldwide falling-out with
pure electric vehicles, he said.
“I think it is fair to say that globally they’re (the major car-makers are)
scaling back some of the activities in that area, which probably reflects other
factors – the global financial crisis, for example – has become more of an
issue at all levels.
“So in terms of the merits of putting a lot of money into rapid deployment of
electric cars, I think there’s other factors have stepped in and taken
Mr McCleave said the fleet of seven electric Commodores – each one has a
specially made rear suspension system that places the 145kW electric motor in
between the rear wheels – has clocked up a combined 100,000 kilometres of
driving, returning valuable data.
“They’re getting good use, and we’re getting good feedback from them,” he said.
“We are still happy with the performance of the car, and the people who drive
them love them.”
Would EV Engineering have had a longer life if it had backed the locally made
Cruze small car? Mr McCleave was not so sure.
“It’s a $64,000 question. But there would have been merit in doing that if
Holden were able to support us with that platform,” he said.
“It was certainly discussed, there was no argument about that.
“But in many ways the Commodore was an ideal vehicle in terms of being able to
seize the opportunity at the time and being able to move very quickly on it,
because it was a relatively easy vehicle to convert from a technical viewpoint,
and Holden were able to support it fairly quickly.
“So we were able to get going on it in a matter of months rather than perhaps
negotiating for a much longer period.
“In terms of seizing opportunity when it was available, Commodore was the right
Since forming its alliance 20 months ago, project partners Bosch, Continental
and GE have all ended their relationship with EV Engineering, leaving Futuris
Automotive and Air International as founding partners.
However, one new name has joined the electric revolution – Axiflux. The
Melbourne-based company has developed a new electric motor that is much smaller
than conventional units.
It is holding trails with EV Engineering in the hope that the motor can one day
develop into a commercial product with more applications than just cars.
“There’s a lot of stationary applications for a motor with better efficiency
and power density,” Mr McCleave said.
“There’s a demand for this all over the mining industry. Think of the price of
shipping in diesel (to mining sites) to run a fan when you can run that fan 20
per cent more efficiently.”
While diversifying the market for the Axiflux motor is a key to EV Engineering’
s long-term future, Mr McCleave said the company would keep taking with
car-makers in China, Thailand and Malaysia in the hope that one day they would
be interested in the technology.
“We’re letting the business plan for EV Engineering evolve a bit,” he said.
“What we’re doing now is putting all our efforts into working with Axiflux to
show the potential of their motor and not letting ourselves get distracted with