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SA premier takes Holden hybrid case to Detroit

Switched on: SA premier Mike Rann says he is confident Holden will build a plug-in version of its new small car. Digital image: Chris Harris.

Rann urges GM CEO to build plug-in hybrid small car in Australia

Holden logo21 Aug 2009

By TERRY MARTIN

THE case to build a plug-in hybrid version of Holden’s forthcoming small car series in Australia received a shot in the arm this week when South Australian premier Mike Rann emerged from talks with General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson in Detroit urging the US auto giant to proceed with the plan.

Premier Rann said he was confident GM would agree to manufacture an electric version of the Holden small car, based on the Chevrolet Volt, at its Elizabeth plant in South Australia – once the Volt was established in the US domestic market.

“The Volt is currently only in prototype stage but I think that the message we’re giving General Motors is that we played our part, we’ve made a major contribution to Holden’s future, (and) we’d like to see the electric car built at Elizabeth as well,” Mr Rann told ABC news.

“I’m very confident about it because that’s the way the market is going. Obviously, car companies have to follow consumer demand. They know that people are increasingly wanting more fuel-efficient cars that produce less emissions.”

13 center imageLeft: Holden's planned small car. Below: SA premier Mike Rann.

Holden made it clear at the announcement last December of its new small-car manufacturing program, which commences in the second half of 2010 with a model based on the current Korean-sourced Cruze, that it was considering a range of alternative fuel and fuel-saving technologies for the new vehicle line, including stop-start hybrid capability.

As GoAuto has reported, there are strong indications the hybrid plan will proceed after the Cruze was subsequently rolled out, in official GM photographs, with the plug-in hybrid powertrain used in the Volt.

Both the Cruze and Volt, and other vehicles including the new-generation Astra, are built on GM’s Delta II vehicle architecture. At this stage, Holden will produce a small Delta-based sedan and hatchback at Elizabeth, and has committed to importing a Holden-badged version of the Volt from 2012.

GM Holden spokesman Scott Whiffin told GoAuto that Holden was delighted premier Rann had met with Mr Henderson to discuss the electric-car program, but emphasised that local production would not be considered until it had tested market reaction with the 2012 imported version.

“We’ve only just launched the imported Cruze and are working towards a range of locally built, fuel-efficient models on petrol and diesel – we’ll get this piece right then look at potential alternatives including E85, LPG, stop-start hybrids and other powertrains,” he said.

“We plan to bring Volt to market as an imported vehicle in 2012 and we’ll look at the market reaction to it before considering any further moves on that front.

“Premier Rann is a great advocate for Holden and the Australian car industry and we’re delighted he had the chance to meet Fritz Henderson in Detroit. We’re also pleased that senior Volt engineers were able to give him an understanding of what is an incredibly important vehicle for us.

“The Volt shares its platform, known as Delta, with the car that will be built in Elizabeth from next year. Having the same platform certainly gives us a first step in terms of future development opportunities, but anything involving electric vehicles would be an enormous leap.” In a statement, Mr Rann said that the small-car decision had secured the future of Holden as a manufacturer in Australia “and the 9000 jobs that rely on the car industry in South Australia”.

“And while the Cruze will be a fuel-efficient car, I would like to see the Elizabeth plant manufacturing the same model but with an even greater fuel efficiency in the future as the technology develops,” he said.

“Developing and adapting this new Holden four-cylinder to even lower carbon emission standards will further entrench our car manufacturing industry.” Federal industry minister Kim Carr has declined to comment on the latest developments, but will travel to Detroit in October for a fresh round of talks with Mr Henderson.

Weeks before Holden had even announced its small-car manufacturing plan, GM Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss raised the prospect of building the Volt at Elizabeth.

Following news from the UK that the Volt could be manufactured at Vauxhall’s Astra plant in Ellesemere Port, Mr Reuss was asked whether Holden’s Volt could be assembled here.

“Sure,” he said, before cautioning that the timeframe was unknown “because I can’t tell you the rate of change of development of the manufacturing of the lithium-ion battery”.

Described by GM as an ‘extended-range electric vehicle’, the Volt can travel up to 64km on electric power only before a 1.4-litre petrol engine is employed to recharge its lithium-ion batteries, allowing hundreds of kilometres of additional travel.

As previously reported, GM commenced pilot production for the Volt in June and is currently building about 10 vehicles a week.

Dozens of pre-production Volts are being tested at GM proving grounds in Yuma, Arizona, and Milford, Michigan, and further testing is being conducted in hot and cold climates to validate the performance of the batteries, which will be produced at a new $US43 million ($A51 million) plant in Michigan.

Full-scale production is scheduled for late next year as a 2011 model.

While in the US this week, Mr Rann also met with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to discuss how state governments could lead the way in reducing carbon pollution and embracing green energy.

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