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Walkinshaw's hybrid dream

Bus stop: Commercial hybrids will be the next niche for the man behind HSV.

Better known for building V8 Supercars, Tom Walkinshaw reveals his hybrid car plans

24 Jun 2008

TOM Walkinshaw is well-known for his high-performance cars but the multi-faceted Scot has revealed that his global automotive development company is only 12 months away from having a production-ready hybrid system for inner-city buses and light commercial vehicles.

Mr Walkinshaw, who owns Holden Special Vehicles and Elfin Sports Cars in Australia, said last week that his British-based operation was well-advanced with the hybrid system and would be talking to governments around the world interested in improving the environmental performance of their bus fleets.

The Walkinshaw Group hybrid system utilises a 2.2-litre diesel engine that acts as a generator for the electric motors fitted within the wheels or in the centre of the vehicle driving groups of wheels.

Asked about alternate fuels, Mr Walkinshaw said that his global operation was being quite environmentally responsible by exploiting different types of technology.

“In other parts of our group (than HSV), we're looking at hybrids for commercial vehicles,” said Mr Walkinshaw.

“I think there's a big opportunity for efficiency in buses and commercial vehicles for hybrid, which could make a huge impact.

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“In our business, you have to look at everything all the time and be at the forefront of anything that's being developed. There's a lot of things out there at the moment being bounced around – how many of them will stand the test of time, who knows?” Mr Walkinshaw said his group's research and development team was working independent of any car, truck or bus manufacturers because they were not motivated to come up with new technology.

“Why would they be? They're making all their investment in conventional drivetrains and everything else, so they have very little incentive to go with any change. It's something completely new and radical.

“The manufacturers don't have the incentive to do it. The people with incentives are local governments that wish to do something about the environment in their cities – they're the ones with the real incentive to do something with it.

“It's a niche that we've identified that has potential, so our engineers are working on that at the moment on buses and light commercials up to seven-tonne.

“Some of it is (new technology) and some of it is taking technology that exists in different applications.

“I dare say (others are working on hybrid buses) because it's an obvious one. There's a lot of pollution that comes out of that type of vehicle, so there's a lot of potential for making quite a significant improvement. I'd be astonished if nobody else was working on it (but) I would hope that we would be at the forefront.

“We'll decide the best way to get a commercial return on it once we've finished it, but a lot of it will come from governments wanting to clean up cities and cut down the pollution, which is huge in Europe.

“Before we started, a did a lot of sounding of different governments in cities throughout Europe. They were all very receptive to the concept of being able to cut down the pollution in the cities, so I think it will be driven from there, but once the technology exists then legislaion will probably creep in behind it to give some incentive to people to adopt that type of product.

“We've got prototypes running now and the improvement we can get is about 35 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and you clean up (the emissions) because of the small engine that's in it. Instead of a big six or nine-litre engine, we're running it with a 2.2-litre engine that drives a 'genny', so it's a huge saving on both emissions and on fuel consumption.” Mr Walkinshaw told GoAuto that production-ready hybrid buses would be on the roads in “about 12 months I would say” and said that one of the development issues was durability with wheel-mounted electric motors in the wheels of vehicles that would inevitably come into contact with roadside kerbs.

However, on the plus side was that buses are conservatively speed-limited in Europe and therefore do not need to be capable of the sort of speeds required of cars, with all the added complexity that brings.

“We are looking at buses that are working in cities and therefore stop-start all the time, plus they are speed-limited in Europe at 100km/h, so wheel motors and everything else only have to cope with that speed range.

“You predominantly get the saving if you're stop-starting in the city because (with a car) once you get onto the motorway, then it takes a certain amount of energy to drive it along at speed, no matter what.

“If you are in the city, the system is quite sophisticated and you can get about a 35 per cent reduction in fuel. The prototypes we have running are Euro 4 (emissions standard), and we're very close to doing Euro 5.” Mr Walkinshaw said that some of the technology being developed under the hybrid program, such as the stop-start system, would spin-off into other products in the Walkinshaw Group.

New Elfin coming

ELFIN will launch an all-new vehicle in August that is designed to break the Australian sports car company into the British and European markets in a big way.

Thought to be powered by a four-cylinder engine – possibly the turbocharged four-cylinder unit fitted to the Holden Special Vehicles Astra VRX, which is sold in Europe as a regular Vauxhall/Opel model – the new vehicle heralds a new era for Elfin.

Elfin owner Tom Walkinshaw admitted that the new car had an engine that was “approximately” half a V8, but said that the existing V8-engined MS8 would continue to be built “to order”.

Mr Walkinshaw said that a V8 made sense for Australia, but not for Europe, making it clear that the new car is designed to crack export markets.

“The new car doesn’t have a V8 in it,” he said. “It’s a totally new car with a different engine that you’ll find out about in August.

“It’s got a lot of European requirements in mind.

“Elfin never designed (the current car) to be sold in Europe. The Australian public have a love affair with the V8, like the American public, so that was the whole rationale behind the Clubman and the MS8. There’s not that same affinity in the UK.

“This is going to be a proper road car and hopefully it will appeal to a much broader market.” The new Elfin will still be an open-top sports car, but a hard-top version is also in the product plan.

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