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Holden rules out local range extender

Power play: Until sophisticated range-extender vehicles like the Holden Volt reach mainstream sales volumes, it is hard to prove a business case for building them in Australia.

Local ‘Volt’ a long way off as Holden settles for petrol-electric imports from US

4 Sep 2012

HOLDEN has ruled out local production of a plug-in range-extender petrol-electric car in the foreseeable future, saying the small market for vehicles such as the Volt dictated that they be made at a restricted number of locations for world markets.

In the case of the Volt, which goes on sale in Australia in November for $59,990 (plus on-road costs), that means it will be imported solely from General Motors’ Hamtramck factory in Detroit, which also makes the Opel/Vauxhall version, Ampera.

GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said that future model plans for locally built cars – encompassing two all-new models built on GM global platforms – did not include a Volt-style plug in.

“I don’t have a plan to do that,” he said. “Right now, the economies of scale would dictate that you make it in one place and export that to the world, and that seems to be the right plan right now.

“I think you would need to see pretty massive volumes, particularly in this country because you have to pick cars that are top-10 sellers.

“It comes with a hell of a lot of investment, and I think you would have to question the business case for how many you could sell.

 center imageLeft: Holden Volt.

“I think the best plan for this vehicle is to build them with as much economy of scale as possible in as few places as possible.”

Mr Devereux said GM had publicly stated its plan to introduce the plug-in powertrain to other models, including the Cadillac ELR that had been shown in concept form.

He said using the technology more widely meant GM could gain greater scale of economies in production to reduce cost.

However, none of those vehicles are planned for Australian launch any time soon, he said.

“I think we just might get this one (Volt) into the market and see what the acceptance is.

“We really need to build knowledge (among members of the public) of what the car is so that people don’t believe there to be range anxiety, that people don’t believe that they have do something different.”

Mr Devereux said that a factory would need to build hundreds of thousands of such vehicles to justify the business case – something that could not be done in Australia.

In the United States, Holden’s sister company Chevrolet has sold 10,666 Volts this year to the end of July, with a further 400 in the UK.

Holden has declined to disclose sales targets for the Volt in Australia, saying only that it has received about 900 expressions of interest on its website.

Opel Australia says it will not import the current Ampera, but has not ruled out the second-generation car when it goes on sale several years from now.

The Volt and Ampera are built on the same Delta II architecture as the Cruze and Opel Astra, but with massive revisions.

GM is also apparently working on a plug-in hybrid version of the Cruze to match the plug-in Toyota Prius that is being trialled around the world, including in Australia.

The hybrid powertrain differs from the Volt range-extender unit in that the Volt is essentially an electric car with a petrol engine used as a generator when the battery runs low, while the plug-in hybrid pairs the petrol and electric engines, with the petrol engine driving the wheels directly under most conditions.

The only hybrid vehicle currently produced in Australia is the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which has no plug-in facility, instead charging the batteries using a combination of regenerative braking and engine power.

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