GM execs says electric Holden Commodore is 'folly'

16 November 2012
, CarsGuide
GM execs says electric Holden Commodore is 'folly'
Electric Holden Commodore at Parliament House in Canberra.

The most senior executives in charge of electrification at General Motors in the US made the comments even though GM offers arm’s length support to the Melbourne-based experimental project by enabling the “donor” cars to be built on Holden’s production line in Adelaide.

In July this year EV Engineering unveiled seven Holden Commodores that had their V6 engines replaced by electric motors – and installed a battery pack that can be “swapped” at a semi-automated exchange station in five minutes.

But while the project is still in its infancy, the global car industry and the world’s biggest automotive market, China, are abandoning the idea of battery swap schemes, say General Motors’ experts. 

Speaking at General Motors' inaugural electrification symposium in San Francisco overnight, Ray Bierzynski was asked by Australian media if the electric Holden Commodore’s battery swap project was “irrelevant”.

He answered “yes”, even though Holden has offered nominal support by agreeing to allow the experimental cars to go down its production line minus the V6 engine, gearbox and petrol tank. 

When asked about the likely uptake of battery swap schemes such as those proposed by start-up Better Place, Bierzynski, the executive director of electrification strategy for General Motors, said:

“You still have to charge the battery whether they’re on board the vehicle or [not]. So why not charge them onboard the vehicle? “When you take them off the vehicle you’re now introducing into the supply stream multiple batteries for each vehicle. It may not be two batteries for each vehicle but it’s certainly more than one per vehicle, because they have to be stored someplace while they’re being recharged.

“So it’s much better, much more efficient for many reasons to recharge the battery [while] it’s onboard the vehicle.” He was then asked if the Melbourne-based EV Engineering exercise was therefore “irrelevant” to General Motors’ “global ambitions and operations” – and he answered “yes”.

Earlier in the presentation Pamela Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer for global electrified vehicles, told the gathering of international media that China – the world’s biggest car market and strong advocate for electric vehicles – was moving away from battery swap systems.

“State Grid in China was all about battery swapping, they thought that was the future of electrification in China,” she said. “But even State Grid have moved away from it too. There are just too many entities that have to collide and co-ordinate to make that happen.” Bierzynski then added: “It’s not a practical,” citing issues such as establishing battery swap stations and having car makers agree on a single battery size.

Although Toyota leads the hybrid car race with more than 4 million sales to date, General Motors has sold more plug-in vehicles than any other brand, including Toyota, Mitsubishi and the Nissan-Renault alliance (the latter initially strong supporters of battery swap schemes).

General Motors says it plans to introduce 500,000 electric cars – from hybrids to pure electric vehicles – by 2015 and 5 million by 2020. Earlier this year an experimental Holden Commodore built by EV Engineering set an “unofficial record” for the longest distance travelled in 24 hours by an electric car.

It travelled 1886 kilometres, equivalent to a return Sydney-Melbourne trip. However the battery pack was swapped 15 times in that 24 hour period (equivalent to refueling 15 times in a fuel economy challenge). EV Engineering also ferried 65 parliamentarians, including 15 Ministers, when the Canberra COMCAR fleet used the electric Commodores during a two week trial in July.

“The most common feedback from passengers was about how smooth and quiet the ride was, which we are absolutely delighted by,” Ian McCleave, CEO of EV Engineering, said at the time. “Clients who experienced a drive in the Commodore were overwhelmingly positive in their responses – wonderful, very excited,” a statement from EV Engineering said.

The Holden Commodores built by EV Engineering have a theoretical driving range of 150km between recharges – or battery swaps. The electric motor has 145kW of power and 400Nm of torque, giving it similar acceleration to a V6 Commodore, with a claimed 0 to 100km/h time of 8.5 seconds. News Limited has contacted EV Engineering and is awaiting comment.