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HSV goes into Cruze mode

Good things in small packages: How the HSV version of Holden's Cruze might look. Digital image: Chris Harris.

Hot local small car on the drawing board for HSV, along with LPG V8

22 Sep 2009

HOLDEN Special Vehicles (HSV) is working on a high-performance version of the forthcoming Australian-built Cruze small car as a potential replacement for its European-sourced Astra VXR, which has been discontinued for cost reasons.

The Tom Walkinshaw-owned Holden hot shop also revealed this week that it had ditched plans to import other Opel/Vauxhall models, including the Insignia and Corsa VXRs.

However, HSV has confirmed that it is set to launch the Australian-developed ‘LPI’ high-pressure liquid-injection LPG option for its facelifted V8-powered E Series 2 range early next year.

HSV managing director Phil Harding said at this week’s E Series 2 media launch that HSV already had examples of the Cruze at the company’s headquarters in Clayton, Victoria, where the styling department was working on design changes to suit an HSV version.

But Mr Harding said a decision on whether the HSV small car would be based on the Cruze sedan or hatch – both of which will be built at Holden’s Elizabeth plant in South Australia from the third quarter of next year – would not be made until the end of this year.

20 center imageFrom top: Holden Cruze, HSV Astra VXR, Vauxhall Insignia VXR and HSV E Series II GTS.

He told GoAuto that the decision could come down to body rigidity – a hint that suggests HSV may be leaning towards a sedan, with its rigid rear body cross-section, rather than the more open architecture of the Holden-designed hatch.

“Because it’s going to have a sportier suspension, the decision may be made for us in terms of the torsional rigidity of the bodyshell,” he said. “I don’t know but that’s something we have to look at. It isn’t necessarily (a decision based on) styling cues.

“I’m not suggesting there is a problem, but we’ve got that work to do, to make sure that what we want to do from a chassis point of view works in either bodyshell. If it doesn’t then we’ll pick one rather than the other.” It is unclear if the “sportier suspension” of the HSV Cruze would be a modified version of Holden’s rumoured basic low-cost torsion-beam rear suspension or something more sophisticated, such as the Opel-devised compound crank/Watts link set-up of the new Astra launched last week at the Frankfurt motor show.

As the Cruze and Astra are both built on GM’s Delta II small-car platform, either alternative may be possible.

Mr Harding would not be drawn on engine outputs, but HSV is likely to draw from one of GM’s new breed of small-displacement direct-injection turbocharged engines, ranging from a 104kW 1.4-litre to a 200kW 2.0-litre.

Mr Harding said the process of getting an HSV version of Cruze to market had only just begun.

“In terms of timing, I’m a way off. (As for) volumes – I don’t think I’m going to sell the same number of those as I do ClubSports and GTSs,” he said. “We don’t use volume as a ‘go/no-go’ decision. We will look at the business case and the rate of return, in terms of profitability.” He admitted the Cruze was the only product with potential for HSV in the GM world.

“What have I got left?” he said. “Anything lower than a Commodore platform has to be Cruze, so yes I’m looking at that.” HSV’s abandonment of European imports comes soon after Holden’s decision to axe the Astra – its last remaining Opel/Vauxhall model – and at time when GM is finalising the sale of its European operations to a Russian-backed consortium led by Canadian auto parts giant Magna International.

“We have looked at Insignia and Corsa VXR,” Mr Harding said. “We have been patient, watching the ownership issues for Europe, but the basic issue is we can’t launch these cars here and place them in a competitive price point.

“The business case doesn’t work for those, so they are off the table.” .

Only a handful of HSV-badged Astra VXRs remain at dealers.

In announcing HSV’s plans to launch its Liquid Propane Injection (LPI) alternative-fuel option next year, Mr Harding said that while he believed LPG’s cost savings would eventually win people over, dealers so far were not enamoured with the prospect of selling LPG-powered muscle-cars.

“If you go out and ask a HSV dealer, ‘Are you looking forward to LPG’s arrival?’ you’ll get 100 per cent of people saying, ‘No’,” he said. “So I’m not doing this in terms of a business case because I think I’m going to have a lot of option take-up.

“It might be a slow exercise. I think there is a lot of dogma about it (LPG). I think we have to get that message through. If you want cheaper motoring why wouldn’t you do it?” Mr Harding said the LPG option on HSV sedans and the Maloo ute would come into its own when petrol prices inevitably rose.

While no price has been set for the LPI option, Mr Harding said the payback period for the system would be about 12 months.

“I’ll have (LPI) in the cupboard and it’ll be used whenever it’s wanted,” he said. “So we’ll launch that next year, but I’m not doing the business investment in terms of a specific return.” LPI prototypes are in final durability testing.

“We have sent three mule vehicles for cold-weather testing in recent weeks, and the reports back from the engineering team are encouraging,” Mr Harding said. “We have engines on dynos completing durability programs.

“If all goes well, we should be able to launch LPI in early 2010. I’m frustrated with that because I wanted it earlier than that, but in terms of doing the proper validation that’s what it’s going to take until quarter one next year.” LPI will be offered as an option on sedan and ute but not the wagon, because of an unresolved issue of gas tank placement.

“Given the number of Sportwagons we sell compared to sedans, I’d rather start off with a sedan configuration with (the gas tank) in the boot to get the longer range,” Mr Harding said. “We think we’ve got a solution for the ute – it does take some space in the tray, but we’ve got protection around it so that you wouldn’t see it.

“Even in the sedan, it’s not like a taxi – so if you lift the bootlid you’ll see a carpeted boot. You won’t see a tank.” An ethanol-petrol E85-fuelled HSV option is also not far away, the company says, but it is awaiting the appropriate infrastructure before being introduced.

“It’s a possibility, and obviously we’ve learned a lot about that from our race team colleagues who know what to do with that technology now (in terms of how to tune the engines and what differences in fuel economy they get),” Mr Harding said.

“We’re pretty sure we know what we’ve got to do, but I just need to see that there’s a date when it’s readily available.” HSV first publicised that it was testing various alternative-fuel prototypes running LPG, E85 ethanol blend and diesel in October last year.

With the confirmation that LPG will be offered as a green alternative to petrol-powered HSVs, Mr Harding also put an end to speculation that HSV may consider diesel power for its high-performance cars, citing a lack of sound commercial viability in such a decision.

“At this stage, a diesel product program will not proceed,” he said. “We looked at it seriously and the business case does not stack up.”

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