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Hybrid Commodore ‘not before 2013’

Not plugged in: A hybrid VE Commodore is not on the Holden agenda, at least in the short-term.

GM Holden says petrol-electric powertrain a low priority for its Commodore

Holden logo13 Jan 2010

By JAMES STANFORD

GM HOLDEN has confirmed it will not build a hybrid Commodore until early 2013 at the earliest.

Company chairman and managing director Alan Batey said it could build a petrol-electric Commodore at some stage, but said nothing was close to fruition and that hybrid was not a high priority at Fishermans Bend.

In May 2008, then GM Asia Pacific president Nick Reilly told Australian journalists that Holden would build a hybrid Commodore within a timeframe of “a couple of years”.

Holden later disputed that this was what Mr Reilly had meant to say and poured cold water on the possibility of a hybrid possibly arriving at some stage in 2010.

Now, Mr Batey has confirmed the hybrid Commodore is still a long way away, despite the imminent launch of Toyota’s locally made Camry hybrid.

Asked if Holden could introduce a hybrid Commodore soon, Mr Batey said: “Could be, but at the moment we haven’t got anything we are ready to announce, but there are possibilities.

“We continue to look at it. It is a possibility? Yes. Is it the highest priority right now? No. There are other things that I would like to do before I do that.”

13 center image Left: Holden ECOmmodore Concept.

Some of those things could be other efficient technologies, said Mr Batey.

“We said that the launch of our EcoLine strategy that it goes into things like E85 ethanol, LPG, potentially diesel.” Holden doesn’t need to make the investment in a hybrid Commodore to benefit from green electric technology, with the Volt plug-in hybrid due to go on sale with a Holden badge in 2012.

“We have got the opportunity to introduce technology in Australia … things like the Volt. Right now I don’t think I would move the needle by introducing a hybrid Commodore.” While Mr Batey said no Holden Commodore hybrid would arrive before 2013, but he would not rule out developing one during that time.

“Will a hybrid Commodore be in production in the next three years? The answer is no,” he said.

“In the next three years could there be a fair amount of work being done on hybrid compatibility and functionality? Yes, there could be.” Mr Batey said diesel was also an option for Commodore, but not unless it was tied to a European export program.

“You would only ever do a diesel with a European program and you would only ever do a diesel if you had the volume to cover the cost from an engineering perspective. So, unless we had an engineering program for Europe, I don’t think it would be viable.” Mr Batey would not confirm if a hybrid Commodore program was underway, but said whatever hybrid studies and research were being done was halted last year as GM lurched towards bankruptcy and Holden suffered its own cash-flow issues.

“I would say it (work) has been slowed. I would say that last year, the January-through-August period, pretty much stopped whatever was going on, with the conservation of cash and everything else that was going on,” he said.

Holden was still looking at what might be the best hybrid Commodore option, if it was to head in that direction.

“Since then, frankly we have had a lot of discussion about ok, what could that be? What would the configuration look like? How would it operate? Is it stop/start? There is a whole raft of things that you can do,” he said.

Mr Batey indicated a mild hybrid would not be on the program.

“Some give you the badge rather than the functionality, but you really want to do a real one,” he said.

Mr Batey also raised doubt about the arrival of an E85 ethanol compatible Commodore this year.

Holden had previously stated that it would release a Commodore able to run on fuel with a mix of up to 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol during 2010, despite the fact that only a handful of E85 pumps exist across the country.

Asked about the 2010 E85 arrival date, which had been stated by his predecessor Mark Reuss just before he left for the US last year, Mr Batey was non committal.

“It (the arrival date) is to be confirmed,” he said.

Such is the scarcity of E85 in Australia that Holden is working with major fleet customers interested in the fuel to see if they are able to install their own pumps.

“We will start primarily focused on fleet because we are in discussions with some pretty major fleet customers that are really interested in E85. If you have got a concentration of a fleet account, in other words if you have got a head office or depots where you have the ability to implement their own tanks,” he said.

Mr Batey said Holden was talking with fuel retailers about broadening the E85 supply chain.

“We are working really closely to makes sure there is distribution in place. So we are working closely with the fuel companies to see what that might look like,” he said.

GoAuto asked Mr Batey why fuel retailers would want to invest in making E85 when demand was so small. The answer indicated marketing a green message would be the lure.

“There is potentially a joint marketing opportunity at launch to do it together,” Mr Batey said.

Holden is not the first brand to offer E85 capable vehicle. That honour went to Saab. Six-cylinder Chrysler Group models sold in Australia are also equipped with E85 capability, but the Australian division sees little value in promoting the technology given the embryonic supply chain.

Mr Batey defended the decision to push an E85 Commodore.

“Ethanol makes all the sense in the world for a country like Australia, so why would we not be there trying to support that?” he said.

“You have got to start somewhere and we think that if we don’t start it isn’t going to get off the ground. The beauty of introducing E85 is that it doesn’t take away anything from the customer if you can’t get access to the fuel.” Holden is working with biofuel company Coskata, which has major links with GM in the US, to help set up a second-generation operation that would produce waste-derived ethanol in Australia.

The project is covered by a confidentiality agreement, but Mr Batey confirmed Holden was not an inverstor, but was helping facilitate the project.

“Currently there is a confidentiality agreement signed, but there are potential investors to put in a Coskata plant,” he said.

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