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Saab offers ‘flex-fuel’ car for Australia

Ethanol evaluation: Several 9-5s will be used for local testing.

Car-maker leads by example in renewable fuels debate

16 Jan 2007

SAAB is set to release the first mostly ethanol-capable passenger car into Australia.

The historic move should see at least one ethanol-powered 9-5 model available in Saab’s local showrooms, by as early as late March.

This is in spite of the fact that only E10 10 per cent ethanol fuel is available in Australia, and that we are unlikely to be able to buy 85 per cent ethanol fuel (E85) before 2010.

First cab off the rank will be the 9-5 2.3t in sedan and wagon variations.

Adding up to $1500 to the price of today’s 9.5 2.3t Linear – which starts at $60,400 – the 9-5 2.3t BioPower can now be ordered through Saab’s dealer network.

In UK specification, the 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder BioPower engine runs on E85 and 15 per cent premium unleaded fuel mix.

It delivers 14 per cent more power (155kW versus 133kW) and 11 per cent more torque (310Nm versus 280Nm) than the equivalent 100 per cent petrol-powered version.

The 0-100km/h-sprint time is reduced by 0.6 seconds, to 7.9 seconds, while the 80-120km/h-acceleration time is falls from 12.6 to 11 seconds.

However, the big news comes into the elimination of carbon dioxide waste, since the sugar cane and other plants that are harvested (for food consumption) ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide, thus counterbalancing the emissions released in an engine’s combustion process.

In contrast, burning oil released carbon dioxide that has been previously locked away underground for millions of years into the atmosphere.

One drawback, however, is reduced fuel consumption.

E85 is octane rated at 104RON, versus 95RON for premium unleaded petrol, so it burns up fuel more quickly. The energy value of ethanol is about equal to diesel fuel, according to Saab.

The bottom line is that the 9-5 2.3t BioPower is about 30 per cent less economical than its petrol-powered counterpart.

But Saab says this is more than offset by the projected price of E85, which will be available excise-free for its first three years.

Projections of up to 60 cents a litre less than regular unleaded petrol are mooted by the company.

And while 9-5 BioPower drivers will not be able to buy E85 for a number of years – three is the earliest likely date – their car can run completely normally on unleaded petrol until ethanol is legalised for general consumption.

Saab does not see this as a stumbling block, pointing out instead that the 9-5 BioPower is fully capable of running on unleaded petrol alone without any modifications whatsoever, along with combinations of petrol and ethanol.

Up to 100 per cent pure ethanol (E100) is easily within the grasp of the 9-5 BioPower, with a number of small modifications.

This is what is known as a ‘flex-fuel’ vehicle.

According to Saab’s director for Australia and New Zealand, Parveen Batish, introducing the BioPower before fuller-ethanol fuel availability would "... help stimulate the demand needed to make renewable fuels, such as E85, commercially available in Australia." Saab launched its Ethanol campaign at last October’s Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, with encouraging results.

It says that a number of show-goers supported the idea, saying that they would purchase an E85 fuelled vehicle despite the non-availability of ethanol in Australia.

Eclipsing forecasts manifold, this car has been a spectacular success in Sweden, where more than 12,000 9-5 BioPower vehicles have been sold since its mid-2005 launch.

Between now and the model’s release here, Australian ethanol producers will soon acquire a number of British-specification ethanol-powered 9-5 BioPower vehicles to assess.

The Manildra Group of Queensland, provider of the ethanol used in Saab’s publicity campaigns, will be among the first off the block with the 9-5 BioPower.

38 center imageThe Queensland Government is another, with loan vehicles also scheduled to make the rounds with the media outlets nationally as soon as they become available.

This follows an extensive push of several 9-5 BioPower demonstrators in Queensland this week.

With the media, as well as governmental and industry representatives present to witness the 9-5 BioPower in action, General Motors’ Swedish arm is keen to show off the environmental and performance benefits of using ethanol.

As reported in GoAutoNews late last year, Mr Batish is pushing forward feverishly with the ethanol project, stating that Australia has a whole industry in Queensland waiting to produce ethanol.

"So while we have something that is renewable, we aren’t we using it?" he said at the time.

Mr Batish likened the availability of ethanol in Australia as breaking "the chicken and egg" situation that a community faces when it tries to introduce a new fuel.

Mr Batish is confident that, following Saab’s lead, rival carmakers and importers will bring out flex-fuel vehicles as soon as ethanol becomes available.

Ethanol and the enthusiast
EVEN if your environmental concerns amounted to zero, improved performance and driveability alone might be enough to convert sceptics into ethanol believers.

How? In a word, 104RON ethanol has an octane rating of 104.

In its present state of tune as available in Europe, the 9-5 BioPower powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder engine produces 132kW and 280Nm, versus 110kW and 240Nm on petrol.

Similarly, the 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder BioPower version that Australia will be receiving from late March delivers 20 per cent more power (155kW versus 133kW) and 16 per cent more torque (310Nm versus 280Nm) than the equivalent petrol-powered version.

The 0-100km/h sprint for the 2.0t model is slashed by 1.3 seconds, to 8.5 seconds, while the 2.3t ethanol-eater records a 0.6 second improvement in the same standing-start times.

Significant tax breaks, cheaper parking, and even reduced registration fees are also on the agenda, to help further make ethanol a more attractive alternative fuel.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:
UK-specification Saab 9-5 Estate 2.0t BioPower ONLY a short drive in the Southern Queensland countryside, as well as an invigorating blast on a race track, revealed an English-specification 9-5 Estate 2.0t BioPower to perform very strongly indeed.

On the road, the smaller-engined BioPower to the 2.3t model we will see here shortly felt much stronger than its petrol-powered 110kW engine output suggests.

It didn’t ping, or run irregularly, or have difficulty starting up, or idle roughly, at any time.

In fact, all the BioPower demonstration proved was that the E85-driven 9-5 2.0t is faster than the regular premium unleaded version.

When you factor in the environmental advantages, this is quite a feat, and a compelling win, for the ethanol supporters.

We cannot see why every Saab from now on should not be fitted with BioPower, even if we have to wait for three years to be able to take advantage of it.

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