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E85: Commodore’s next big thing

Alcopop: Holden will make the Commodore capable of running on ethanol-petrol E85 blend from late next year.

Ethanol cars to replace up to 30% of petrol Commodore sales from late next year

8 Sep 2009

GM HOLDEN expects ethanol-powered vehicles to account for up to 30 per cent of all Commodore sales when the E85 Commodore goes on sale from late 2010.

Apart from the fitment of the Commodore’s new entry-level 3.0-litre direct-injection petrol V6 in the base Omega Ute, the rollout of E85-compatible models before the end of next year will represent the next major upgrade for Holden’s volume-selling Commodore range.

“We will have E85 on our cars before the end of next year,” said GM Holden chairman and managing director Alan Batey. “Holden will lead the way (with E85) across the Commodore range next year.” Holden is in discussion with a number of undisclosed fuel companies about the retail rollout of E85 fuel around Australia, as well as a number of major fleet vehicle purchasers about its upcoming ethanol-capable vehicle range.

And, although Mr Batey said its E85 Commodore push is not dependant on it, Holden continues to remain in talks with a consortium of Australian companies to establish the first cellulostic ethanol facility in Australia, in partnership with US bio-fuel producer and GM partner, Coskata.

“We are still in negotiations with Coskata and we are working with a consortium of Australian companies. (But) The Coskata initiative is practically one piece of it,” said Mr Batey.

13 center image Left: Holden has developed an ethanol-compatible version of its V6 SIDI engine.

“The other piece is obviously fuel companies really being committed to distribution. We are also talking to fuel companies to ensure there are sufficient pumps.

“It’s quite interesting – E10 where it has been available has really taken off. People really want it. So E85 is really a very interesting initiative and one that we are really going to tackle head on.

“There’s a good discussion around it today. We’re still being thought of as an Australian car company leader, and sometimes you have to be seen as taking the lead and pulling things together, and (Holden’s director of energy and environment) Richard Marshall is doing a great job of that, so it’s a journey we’re on and we still have to keep talking to and educating people.” Mr Batey said discussions with fuel companies were still in an early stage, despite confirming its first E85 Commodore is little more than a year away.

“It is not up to us to make the decisions, but we are talking to a number of companies about what we want to do and why we think it is a great opportunity,” he said. “And then of course we want them to get a look and to see if they also think that it is something that is very viable and the way forward.

“We are starting those discussions even actually as we speak, and that will be an ongoing process. It is still the early stages.,” said Mr Batey, adding that discussions with fleet operators have already begun.

“There are many fleets that we know that are committed to creating a green fleet, and those discussions are on their way.,” he said.

“A lot of it depends, in the early discussions, on where the concentration of their vehicles are – if their vehicles are spread all over Australia and are mostly used by field reps or whatever. In the early stages that will be difficult.

“As you know, you don’t have to run on E85 – it’s an option. But if you’ve got a concentration of vehicles, that could be a government fleet or that could be a commercial fleet, where you have got a lot of vehicles in one site, then you would imagine that it would be a really great opportunity for us to go out there with the assistance of fuel company distribution and really get it up and running good and fast.

“And some of these companies will see it as ‘Wow, this is really a great opportunity for us to be at the front end of this new technology’.” GM’s Saab brand is currently the only car-maker to offer E85-compatible vehicles in Australia, although fellow Swede Volvo says it also has a range of E85 vehicles ready for when ethanol fuel becomes more widely available in Australia.

Currently only a handful of E85 bowsers exist nation-wide, but the GM/Coskata model hopes to produce renewable ethanol fuel at a number of plants from waste products, including agricultural residue, household garbage and forestry waste.

The new Holden chief confirmed E85, which GM and Coskata claim has the potential to reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by up to 84 per cent compared with regular petrol, will precede the availability of Holden’s next-generation dedicated LPG system in the Commodore.

“We’re working on LPG,” said Mr Batey. “As you know we’ve got dual-fuel. And mono-fuel – dedicated. The guys are working on that as we speak. And that’s another opportunity for us.” Asked if Holden’s upcoming dedicated LPG system would beat the E85 Commodore to market, Mr Batey said: “From a timing perspective, no. E85 will be here before (LPG) mono-fuel.

“We’ve made it very clear that we don’t think that you should chase one thing. There’s a whole variety of technologies that suit different uses and customer requirements, so we will be taking that strategy and running it across various different derivatives.” Holden has already developed an E85-compatible version of its direct-injection SIDI V6, but has ruled out the development of a diesel-powered Commodore in the near-term, due to the compression-ignition engine’s extra cost, longer pay-back period and lack of demand when fuel prices are not increasing.

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