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Ethanol to ‘future-proof’ Holden Commodore

Holden on: Holden says its research shows customers do not want smaller engines.

E85, iQ and Redline to maintain Commodore’s relevance in Australia, says Holden

14 Sep 2010

GM HOLDEN says new Series II technologies such as E85 ethanol capability, a new ‘Holden-iQ’ infotainment system and Nurburgring-tuned ‘Redline Edition’ performance models – not down-sized engines – will maintain the relevance of its Commodore large-car range to Australian consumers.

Holden says this month’s facelift is about “future-proofing” the car that has been Australia’s top-selling model for the past 14 years.

Holden marketing director Philip Brook said at the Series II Commodore launch on Friday that customers in the large-car segment “absolutely don’t want smaller engines, and we try to do what customers want”.

“E85 shows Holden is moving with the times,” he said. “From a marketing perspective what it shows is that Holden understands that world’s changing and that Commodore needs to move with it.

“E85 is not the whole message but part of it. We think from the customers’ view the big story is Holden-iQ, while E85 is about shoring up its future.”

GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said the Series II upgrade represented more than just the release of another model for Holden.

“This isn’t just a vehicle launch,” he said. “It’s the beginning of an education process here.

“We’re proud to be taking a leadership position on ethanol and renewable fuels in Australia and it’s important everybody understands why we’re taking this step, and how flex-fuels actually perform.”

13 center imageLeft: Caltex E-Flex. Bottom: Holden energy and environment director Richard Marshall.

Energy and environment director Richard Marshall said Holden had launched a new website (ethanolanswers.com.au) to explain the alternative fuel’s application in Australia in simple terms.

“This is about launching a new fuel as well,” he said, referring to Caltex’s rollout of the first 31 ‘Bio E-Flex’ E85 ethanol fuel pumps in all capital cities except Perth and Darwin by October, increasing to 100 by mid-2011.

Mr Marshall said 90 per cent of ‘flex-fuel’ Series II Commodores bought in Australia would reside within 10km of an E85 bowser, and reiterated Holden’s belief that 85 per cent renewable E85 fuel would reduce petrol usage in Australia by 30 per cent by 2030.

“What better way to move this new fuel from a niche product into the mainstream market, than to make it available from a major fuel supplier and suitable for use in Australia’s favourite car?” he said.

Holden claims E85 fuel – which currently costs 92.5 cents per litre in Adelaide, or 34 cents less than the five-year-low 98 RON PULP price, and is subject to less price volatility than petrol - reduces ‘well to wheel’ CO2 emissions by up to 40 per cent compared to petrol power (including fuel production).

Higher-octane E85 fuel also increases low to mid-range torque on both the Commodore’s ethanol-friendly 3.0-litre V6 and 6.0-litre V8 engines, which come at no extra cost in most VEII Commodore models and can run on 100 per cent petrol, E10, E85 or any combination in between.

However, Holden acknowledges the lower energy content of the ethanol-blended fuel increases consumption (and therefore reduces driving range) by about 30 per cent, thereby effectively reducing CO2 emissions while driving by only a few per cent and virtually eliminating any cost saving.

“Australians will need to understand that there’s less range with ethanol – we shouldn’t hide from that – there is more power with ethanol – we shouldn’t hide from that either – and the balance between a barrel of oil, the cost of producing ethanol, and what the retail price is, is a supply and demand issue,” said Mr Devereux.

“This is the first step in a long journey. Brazil has made that journey. All the debate around pricing, availability, how much energy there is in a litre of ethanol – that has been asked and answered in Brazil two decades ago and Australia can either take this first step or not.

“We have said we’ll take this first step and, chicken-and-egg, put the technology into the vehicle. Caltex has said we’re going to put 100 pumps into the most densely populated areas of Australia. What happens from here is the second part of the journey.

“I hope it takes off. I really think that it’s something that from an energy independence standpoint Australians should be talking about – not just because we have the capability to do it, but because it’s a smart thing to do.”

The 3.6-litre V6 used in the SV6, Calais and Caprice will be E85-capable by 2012, joining the fleet-oriented 3.0-litre Omega model – in which Series II aero updates help reduce fuel consumption by two per cent – and the V8-powered models that are now up to 12 per cent more fuel efficient.

GM has produced almost half of the 7.5 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road globally today. Locally, engine changes include hardened valves and valve seats, a new fuel pump, the addition of a flex fuel sensor and revised engine calibration.

“The ethanol technology we’ve put in the car doesn’t cost the consumer but it does cost us human time and piece costs, so think about that as future-proofing the car,” said Mr Devereux.

“That’s something I think is going to be a longer-term proposal as Australians understand energy diversity. We don’t mean to be preaching here, but it is an education process and it will take some time. So we’re taking that first step.”

Holden says it is also working on LPG technology that lowers CO2 emissions by a further 10-15 per cent (a dedicated LPG Commodore is due next year), as well even cleaner CNG technology, which is also abundant in Australia.

It adds that plug-in hybrids such as the Volt in 2012 and fuel cell-powered battery electric vehicles to follow will see multiple energy solutions to coexist for at least two decades.

“There is a whole range of different technology options and depending on the platform and so on some of those will be applied,” said Mr Marshall.

“For the Commodore, that’s the engine that makes sense now it’s affordable and E85 is the right thing to do for that car.”

Asked if Holden’s E85 push signalled the end of its traditional performance increase with each new model, Mr Devereux said power outputs would remain a key selling point for the Commodore, but not at the expense of fuel consumption.

“I think we’ve got the right balance of fuel efficiency and power,” he said. “One of the things that Phil (Brook) and I have been talking to the dealers about over the past two weeks is making the Commodore very relevant to Australian families. (It’s about) Putting technology in the cars people can afford – it’s not a science experiment.

“All I can tell you in that the engine we have now and will have for a couple more years isn’t necessarily going to get more powerful. I think we’ve got fantastic performance right now, so the story isn’t about more power, it’s about getting the right balance of power with fuel economy that people demand.

“In two, five or ten years that car’s going to need to evolve, and this is the first step in that. Having powerful engines is absolutely part of the Commodore story.

“This is a Series II model. It’s not a grunt-grunt power story. That’s not the story. It’s a very relevant story. When we talk about flexing our muscles, it’s flex-fuel muscle that we’re flexing and I think we have very good power-to-weight with this car, so now we’re future-proofing it.”

Mr Devereux said it was unlikely the next-generation Commodore would grow in size, but suggested it would introduce lighter-weight materials.

“In some of our upcoming models we’re also going to have a look at light-weighting of materials and this is an area, certainly in Australia, with our supply base that we’re going to be focussing on very strongly,” he said.

“I wouldn’t imagine that the car will grow over time but, frankly, the next-gen of Commodore … we’re in architectural mode right now, so decisions on what we’re going to do with that vehicle are yet to be made but I wouldn’t imagine the car would get bigger.

“I think the car is the right size. We were talking about that with the dealers. Mid-size cars where I used to live in the States are just a little on the small size.

“Malibu is slightly smaller than the Commodore, which actually is the sweet spot from a wheelbase standpoint – it gives you just that little bit of extra room in the rear … so I don’t think the car needs to grow at all, I think the car is just the right size today.

“We’ll be talking about light-weighting and more efficient powertrains going forward. The car is the right size today, We’re on a march down from the 9.1 (L/100km) we have today down towards the mid-eights. That’s the strategy.

“What won’t change is that we’re going to continue to make Commodore the best handling and performing car in this country, but we have to strike the right balance with being environmentally responsible.

“We’re going to have cars that absolutely kick arse, no question - we’ve just got to make it more relevant for a broader future audience.”

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