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Holden Commodore electric in test

Rear-wheel drive is perfect for balance and for the placement of the electric power train.

The battery-powered Commodore is the first of seven being built by EV Engineering in Melbourne. Chief engineer Tim Olding, who spent 19 years with Holden, says the first test car is completed and would conclude validation testing by February.

It will be joined in June by six more test cars built as a "proof of concept project to demonstrate technical viability".

The eight-year project is a partnership with companies specialising in electronics, charging infrastructure and fleet vehicles and has been partly funded by a $3.5m government grant under the now-axed Green Car Innovation Fun.

Olding says they have also received assistance from Holden but "no promises".

"Holden gave us all the CAD (computer-aided design) for the base vehicle, access with their engineers to make the car function in the same way and access to their proving ground at Lang Lang," he says.

"But there have been no promises from Holden about building an electric car. This is a feasibility project to look at all the components. No promises are guaranteed."

Olding also said their conversion architecture could effectively be transferred to a Ford Falcon but refused to comment on approaches to, or from, Ford or any other manufacturers.

For the first time, Olding provided details of the electric car concept and the reasons for choosing the Commodore.

He says the Australian car industry's strength is in large rear-wheel-drive cars and the ability to build a variety of different models from the same architecture such as sedans, wagons and utes.

"It (the EV) should be able to be built on an existing production line alongside ICE (internal combustion engine) models," he says. "Rear-wheel drive is perfect for balance and for the placement of the electric powertrain."

Their EV Commodore concept replaces the Commodore's engine and transmission tunnel with 210 40amp-hour cells from Bosch; the same as used in BMW's electric concept cars. Olding says the modules can be built into the unusual engine/transmission tunnel shape.

The fuel tank is replaced by the power electrics module and the differential is replaced by the electric motor and gearbox between the rear suspension. "Even the upcoming Tesla Model S has a similar configuration," he says.

"There should be no major change to the engineering; that's the key component. This is the most cost-effective way to make an EV in Australia. "They should cost about the same as an ICE car, plus the cost of the battery."

Olding says the battery is anchored with quick-release connections so it can be swapped easily to alleviate anxiety over the estimated 160km range.

The car would also be chargeable from a home mains output. EV Engineering's consortium includes Bosch, Continental, Futuris, Better Place, Air International and GE, one of the largest owners of feet vehicles in Australia. The consortium is headed by Rob McEniry, former CEO of Mitsubishi Motors Australia.

Olding says GE will help conduct testing over the next two years. However, he says it is also feasible that an EV car could be produced for public sale before the official end of testing.

While Holden has no current plans for an EV Commodore, it will release the Volt next year which has an electric motor with a small petrol-powered "range extender" motor.

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