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Commodore to go it alone on E85 for now

Top fueller: Holden's new Commodore will get bio-fuel capable engines, but Cruze will have to wait.

Holden set to wait on ethanol-capable Cruze when production goes local

3 Aug 2010

HOLDEN’S E85 ethanol-capable ‘EcoFlex’ Commodore, due in Australian showrooms with the VE Series II update in October, is unlikely to be joined by other Holden models engineered for the bio fuel for a year or more.

Initially, only the locally made 3.0-litre SIDI V6 and imported 6.0-litre V8 are expected to get the EcoFlex engine modifications in Commodore, with the mainstream 3.6-litre SIDI V6 to follow next year, reportedly because of budget restraints.

The Cruze small car is also earmarked for the ‘flex fuel’ E85 treatment at some point after it goes into local production in sedan, hatch and wagon variants at Holden’s Elizabeth plant next year, but GoAuto understands the first models will use conventional petrol and diesel engines.

It is unclear if the belated launch of a flex-fuel Cruze has any connection with a delay in the introduction of a similar E85 four-cylinder flex-fuel engine in initial production of General Motors’ new plug-in Volt petrol-electric range-extending hybrid.

The 1.4-litre turbocharged direct injection engine was to have been engineered for the renewable but corrosive E85 fuel – made up of about 85 per cent ethanol brewed from plant material and 15 per cent petrol – by the time Volt production was ready to start in Michigan in November.

13 center imageFrom top: Holden Cruze, Chevrolet Cruze hybrid prototype and Caltex E-Flex bowser.

But GM has confirmed that initial Volt production will be petrol only, blaming the lack of E85 pumps in prospective US markets for its decision to delay the Volt E85 rollout that was originally one of the eco-friendly flagship’s green credentials.

American reports suggest the ethanol-capable version of Volt might appear in the second half of next year. Until then, Volts sold in the US will require premium unleaded petrol – a fuel that existing E85 engines can run on anyway.

In the Volt, the engine kicks in when the lithium-ion batteries run down, generating more electricity to extend the vehicle’s range to about 480km.

A variant of the same 1.4-litre turbo engine is set to go into the locally made Cruze, which has been developed with the aid of a federal government Green Car Innovation Fund grant.

Holden’s energy and environment director Richard Marshall told GoAuto this week that Holden’s intent for ethanol was to “basically put it on everything” that was suitable in the Holden range.

“Overall, we will be looking to match (ethanol) to those vehicles where it makes sense, where it is appropriate for that technology, but our intent is to basically put it on as many cars as possible,” he said.

He said Holden’s goal was to ultimately ‘displace’ 30 per cent of petrol consumption with ethanol.

Mr Marshall declined to be drawn on when the Cruze would get flex-fuel capability, which was mooted along with CNG and hybrid powertrains when the company announced local production of the Cruze small car in December 2008.

“Because Cruze is a global platform, there are a huge range of technologies that will be potentially available for that vehicle, and all those are being considered to see if they are appropriate and at the right time for launch in Australia,” he said.

Speaking at the unveiling of Caltex’s first E85 Bio E-Flex fuel pump – the first of 31 to be commissioned across Australia by October when Holden’s flex-fuel Commodore hits the market – Mr Marshall said Holden intended to pursue all fuel-saving technologies, not just E85.

“We are across all of them,” he said. “Our view is that we have to do all of them, that there is not one solution that is going to dominate.

“To make motoring more sustainable you have to embrace every solution.

“I know that is hard for a lot of people to get their head around, but that’s the way it has got to go.

“So we will keep working on LPG, E85 is a very significant part of it, we will be bringing Volt out here in 2012. They all form part of the overall solution.”

Mr Marshall did not rule out local production of a plug-in hybrid Cruze, a prototype of which was first shown in the US more than 12 months ago, saying: “They are all things to be considered, but we have no announcement at this point.”

Likewise, he said Holden had no immediate plans for a diesel Commodore, but “you can never say never”.

Mr Marshall said Holden’s E85 plans for Commodore would be spelled out at launch time, which GoAuto believes will be just before the Australian International Motor Show in October.

Holden already has extensive experience in ethanol engine technology, having exported flex-fuel Commodores for years to Brazil, where they are sold as Chevrolet Omegas.

The flex-fuel engines get LPG-style tougher valves and valve seats to handle the lower lubrication qualities of E85, along with modified fuel pump and fuel lines to handle the corrosiveness of ethanol.

As well, a fuel sensor that Mr Marshall likens to a “breathalyser on the fuel line” is included to detect variation in ethanol content in the fuel so the engine management system can adjust engine calibrations to suit.

The Holden engines will be able to handle blends of ethanol and petrol ranging from pure petrol to 85 per cent ethanol.

As well as flex-fuel engines, the VE II Commodore will get new-look bumpers, grilles and grilles and lights, but sheetmetal remains untouched. A revised interior will get colour touch screen.

A new 'Performance Pack' to be offered on SS and Calais will include bigger four-pot front Brembo brakes, unique 19-inch alloy wheels and stiffer suspension.

Commodore SS manuals get a 'Competition' ESC mode, as seen on Holden Special Vehicles models.

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