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New models - Mitsubishi - Magna

First drive: LPG Magna opens up opportunities

Entry level pricing: The LPG Magna Executive cost $1.3 million to develop and is $800 more than the petrol version.

Export opportunities are being pursued for new LPG Magna

Mitsubishi logo5 May 2003

By ALEXANDER CORNE

THE arrival of the dedicated LPG Magna on the Mitsubishi production line in Adelaide could help the company's push into the Japanese market.

MMAL is already negotiating to supply the Magna to Japan once Diamante ceases production there in the near future - and the LPG version adds another argument in its favour.

The Diamante has never been built by the Japanese as an LPG vehicle and, according to company sources, apparently there are no technical reasons why the vehicles could not be sold there, but it would require a request from the sales and marketing departments there to press the button on exports.

Japan is a hotbed of alternative fuel research, partly to help meet Kyoto mandates and also help remove the industrial pollution that covers many centres.

Magna is already exported to New Zealand and the current TJ dedicated LPG model is expected to go there as well. As with the potential Japanese exports, the fully factory-built feature is one that would sit well with potential customers overseas.

Insiders say there is no limit to the number of cars that could be built on a daily basis, with tank manufacturer Manchester tooled up for volume production.

At present just seven dedicated LPG Magna Executive sedans with automatic transmission pass down the line each day, initially to source a 400-vehicle strong fleet for Origin Energy, although this order will also include some facelift models.

Mitsubishi aims to increase overall Magna sales and does not see the LPG vehicle as simply a replacement for petrol models.

It will also open up sales channels to green organisations as well as those trying to go green, such as state governments some of which have enacted recent V6 company car mandates that require a percentage of or total commitment to LPG fuelling.

When the TL facelift models appear mid-year, the dedicated LPG system will be sold in greater numbers and across greater trim levels, but there will be no wagon versions at this stage.

Verada trim and all-wheel drive variants are similarly unlikely unless sufficient demand is received.

Mitsubishi executives suggest there is no reason why the Magna Sports as well as Advance models should not go dedicated LPG in the short term, and this would enhance their appeal to user-chooser and fleet buyers, as well as maintain residual values for disposal into the private market.

DEVELOPING MAGNA LPG

THE $1.3 million two-and-a-half year development program of the dedicated LPG Magna was conducted in-house by Mitsubishi, after an outsourcing solution went wrong.

As many as seven engineers worked on the program at one time under the guidance of 23-year-old Alex Fejer - possibly the youngest engineer in the car industry to have such a senior role.

Mr Fejer ran the program for the last year of its development, including the vital eight-month sign-off period and hot trip testing.

Some of the engineering tests involved ascertaining that the shorter inlet hoses - now split by the insertion of the gas components - would not exhibit higher levels of fracture due to their shorter lengths and loss of flexibility.

Working with local suppliers, Mitsubishi was able to achieve a thorough examination and testing of parts before commissioning the first production cars.

The program has been tested through the usual Mitsubishi procedures and four crash test have been undertaken to ensure there are no issues to do with puncturing or leakage in the event of a smash.

Mitsubishi's target, quite appropriately, was that there should be no difference in the level of occupant protection provided by the LPG car versus that of a petrol-fuelled car.

The crash tests included a full frontal, front offset on the left-hand side where the mixer and converter are mounted near the fire wall, as well as rear and rear-side impact tests around the fuel filler.

The development team stripped out all the petrol system components but was unable to mount the 88-litre tank (effective capacity 70 litres) anywhere other than in the boot, which cuts back some of the Magna's natural capaciousness.

But there is still room for two golf bags or about two suitcases in the 325-litre boot (down from 460 litres).

Mitsubishi considered relocating the tank under the car in the well left by the departing petrol tank but the shape of the space did not suit the cylindrical needs of the LPG canister.

Even small twin tanks did not work, partly due to cost and weight issues, but mounting problems also surfaced. Replacing the spare wheel well and moving the spare inside the boot, as Ford has been forced to do, was not even considered seriously.

The dedicated LPG Magna costs $800 more than the 3.5-litre V6 petrol powered version on which it is based and provides about 30 per cent cheaper motoring in terms of cost of fuel.

The volume of fuel used is similarly about 30 per cent greater than petrol, but the cash savings should add up to break-even within 25,000km on a rough estimate based on a near 1600km drive undertaken in mid-April as part of the Autogas Challenge Clean Air Rally.

The 3.5-litre V6 LPG engine produces 143kW of power at 5000rpm (petrol: 155kW at 5250rpm) and 296Nm of torque at 4000rpm (316Nm at 4000rpm). It accelerates to 100km/h in 9.93 seconds (9.56) and its official city cycle fuel consumption figure is 14.5L/100km (10.5) and 9.0 litres on the highway (6.6L/100km).

Official figures state the range to be 480km around town (600km) and 600km (900km) on highway cruising.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

DRIVING the dedicated LPG Magna over a 1600km distance along mostly good, flowing, open roads in South Australia and northern Victoria provided an experience that even enthusiasts would find hard to fault.

It provides more than adequate overtaking urge and performs in every way as well as the petrol models.

The Magna starts cleanly without even a smidge of throttle even after a cold night in the open, and revs smoothly all the way to the red line.

When the 2005 Magna is launched it is expected to feature an electronic drive by wire throttle system that should further improve fuel economy and LPG performance, sources suggest.

Mitsubishi has been building LPG-compatible engines since before the start of local V6 production in 1996, so there was no need to touch the engine innards to ensure they could cope with sole LPG fuelling.

Mitsubishi's aim was to make the LPG drive as seamless as possible and in this they have undoubtedly succeeded.

The Magna is just as user-friendly as a petrol car, and as Mr Fejer says: "The only place you'll notice the difference is in your fuel bills".

Amen to that.

Enquire on or Test Drive a New Magna

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