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Holden Commodore hybrid and diesel are go

VEnergised: Petrol-electric power is coming for Holden's homegrown hero.

GM Asia Pacific chief confirms Holden will build hybrid and diesel Commodore by 2010

19 May 2008

GM HOLDEN will build a hybrid Commodore in Australia from as early as 2010 and plans to introduce a diesel version of the family sedan at the same time.

In other revelations this week, the Australian car-maker is also seriously considering a turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant for the large sedan, and the long-term manufacture of small cars here.

The news comes just weeks after Ford Australia president Bill Osborne told GoAuto that it would introduce a diesel for both its Falcon and Territory in 2010, and as Toyota Motor Corporation decides whether it will build a hybrid Camry at its Altona plant in Victoria.

Visiting Australia this week, General Motors Asia Pacific president Nick Reilly confirmed Holden would build a petrol-electric Commodore at its Elizabeth plant in Adelaide in the next “couple of years”.

Mr Reilly said a diesel-powered Commodore was also a priority, along with the possible introduction of alternative fuels as the company responds to customer and government demands for greener engines.

“In terms of speed, the quickest thing that we can do is alternative fuels such as LPG (liquid petroleum gas), CNG (compressed natural gas) and E85 (an 85 per cent ethanol, 15 per cent petrol mix). Those would be our priorities,” he said.

“Certainly, diesel we already have in several of our cars in Australia. We don’t yet have a diesel in the Commodore but that will come, and, as for hybrids, we will introduce hybrids in the next couple of years.

“But as I mentioned before, our strength in hybrids tends to be in larger vehicles – that’s where you will see them first.” Mr Reilly was then asked specifically if the Commodore would be built with a hybrid powerplant.

“That could be one of the first hybrids you see and I would put a timeframe on that of a couple of years,” he said.

When asked whether a diesel powerplant would arrive before or after a petrol-electric hybrid, Mr Reilly said it was likely both would be introduced around the same time.

The news comes as a major breakthrough for Holden, which has been working on both diesel and hybrid prototypes of its large car for several years.

While Holden engineers teamed up with the CSIRO in 2000 to build the ECOmmodore hybrid working prototype, which used a four-cylinder engine and an electric motor, the hybrid technology that would be introduced in 2010 would be taken from the GM powertrain division in the US.

13 center imageGeneral Motors Asia Pacific president Nick Reilly.

Mr Reilly said Holden would be calling on the Bracks automotive industry review to consider introducing federal government consumer incentives in the form of tax cuts to help the take-up of green technology.

“There is a limit to the amount of consumers who are going to buy a hybrid because they want to contribute to the environment,” he said. “You have to make it economical for consumers and I think the government needs to help there.” Holden supports consumer incentives for hybrids, but Mr Reilly also urged the government to back other green solutions such as diesel, LPG and E85.

“Hybrid is one solution and it is certainly not the only solution, nor may it be a huge solution because of the numbers of people who are willing to buy them,” he said. “So I think it would be a big mistake for the federal government to put all its eggs in one basket and subsidise manufacturers to produce it and then subsidise consumers who buy them and that’s all they did.” When asked if a turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine could power the Commodore, Mr Reilly indicated such a proposal was being looked at closely.

“That is certainly a sensible suggestion, let me answer it that way,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense and therefore we are probably looking at it, but I can’t tell you if we are going to do it or when.” While Holden would look at smaller engines for the Commodore, Mr Reilly said the company remained committed to offering V8 engines.

Mr Reilly also raised the possibility that Holden could follow Ford Australia’s lead and produce smaller models in Australia.

While he stressed that no such plan existed at this stage, Mr Reilly said the company could build smaller cars along with its Commodore-based models at its Elizabeth plant in the long-term, if that was what the market demanded.

“One likes to think that you are manufacturing to suit the domestic market and that has clearly changed, and in my view it is not going to reverse and may even go further than it has already,” he said. “So longer-term I think we do need to consider what we manufacture here.” Mr Reilly said a decision on which vehicles would be produced in Australia would not be made straight away.

“I would like to make that decision in the next two to three years, not really before that because we also have to know what the long-term outlook is for the current products we produce here (and) in our current export markets – are they going to stay with those products or not,” he said.

While GM Daewoo in South Korea has long been accepted as the most sensible base for the production of small cars, Mr Reilly raised the idea that Australia could produce models that are currently built by Daewoo for both domestic and export markets.

“I think the first thing we would do is look to see what would be good volume down here, what possibly we might be able to export from here as well, and we would make a choice on what we were going to do here based on what the market wants,” he said.

“And so if that happened to be something that was produced in Korea or elsewhere then we’d stop producing it up there and make it down here.

“It could be though something that is not already produced there. (But) the fact that it could be coming in from Korea today would not stop us from producing it here.” Mr Reilly stated that any potential smaller vehicle would be produced alongside the Commodore in Elizabeth, rather than replacing the traditional family car.

“I don’t see us getting out of the traditional large car,” he said.

Mr Reilly said that GM currently made a profit on small-car production and could do so with the sort of numbers that would be considered in Australia.

However, he did stress that the viability of such a vehicle would depend on the amount of components that could be sourced locally.

“One of the most significant things about manufacturing here at a profit is to do with the supply base. We know how to manufacture 20,000 or 30,000 vehicles and be quite efficient at it in Elizabeth, but also need to locally source at least 50 or 60 per cent of the vehicle to make it financially viable,” he said.

“So we do need a supply network that can get competitive quotes on the components and we have got good relations with our suppliers here … they have to be competitive enough that they can export as well.” Mr Reilly called on the Bracks review to consider component suppliers and give them some assistance to ensure they can continue production, especially with exchange rates hurting the companies that exported.

“One of the things we hope the government review that is going on right now is looking at is not just a matter of the OEMs, it is very much a matter of the supply base in my view,” he said.

“The exchange rate isn’t helping them because if they are going to be competitive generally speaking they are going to need some exports. Right now, the component suppliers for Commodore are doing a good job and we are working with them to try and get them more efficient and try and keep costs under control, but the supply base definitely needs help.” In response to the news, FCAI chief executive Andrew McKellar echoed Mr Reilly’s calls for government assistance with environmental technologies.

“It is absolutely vital that the policy arrangements going forward ensure that we are able to do all we can to secure investment in those future technologies – whether it be hybrid, whether it be alternative fuel technology, whether it be the production of a diesel vehicle locally or any of those emerging opportunities,” he told GoAuto.

“We need … that investment for the future of Australian manufacturing.”

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