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A car that could resurrect large family sedan sales and help safeguard Australian automotive jobs is being built in a tin shed in Melbourne. It's a Holden Commodore, but not as we know it.
That is evident as the car "beeps" as it reverses back to the laneway Carsguide will use as a "launch pad" for our first behind-the-wheel experience with a large, rear-wheel drive electric vehicle. Forward propulsion is silent ... tyre squeak on the painted floor and the hiss of the hydraulic power steering are the only sounds emanating from the car.
Outside, we're restrained to from-rest bursts up to 40km/h. That's more to do with the fact this car isn't registered than any worries over its driveability ... its stablemate is undergoing validation trials at the Anglesea proving ground on the same day.
Acceleration is steady, with a faint turbine whine as the Commodore picks up speed. Flicking the automatic transmission lever into Sport releases more charge from the batteries and the pace lifts noticeably.
It's not quite as quick as a regular combustion engined car but I suspect that has more to do with the way the car was programmed for Carsguide's visit and the developers' desire to keep it intact for further testing.
This Commodore has ditched the V6 engine for 300kg of lithium-ion battery cells. The battery pack is built in-house to fit in the engine bay and drivetrain tunnel, with the control electronics mounted where the fuel tank used to be.
There's still a gaping hole where the exhausts once exited, but EV Engineering - the non-profit company building the cars with the help of local auto component suppliers a $3.55 million government grant - plans to fit an aerodynamic undertray to cover the void.
The first generation car we're driving is powered by a 145kW/400Nm electric motor matched to a Borg-Warner electric single-ratio gearbox and differential.
EV Engineering's chief engineer Tim Olding says it is good for at least 140km/h and the seven "proof of concept" vehicles the company will by July will have a range of around 160km. They'll also be at least 40kg lighter than the first-gen cars.
The development has already led to the company filing several patents.
"We can buy a standard energy cell and then we have to adapt them to make it into a battery for us. So the first thing we have to do is attach a set of terminals to it. As a high-volume production cell they actually weld all the cells together. That's not a good idea for a small-scale battery because if something goes wrong we have to throw the entire battery away. So essentially, this (the terminal construction) is our technology we've had to develop. You lay a sheet of copper on the ground, lay a sheet of aluminium on top of it and then you put 50 grams of ammonium nitrate on that and explode it."
"Apparently the history is after the Battle of the Somme (World War I) they noticed bits of tanks were fused to other bits of tanks and initially couldn't work out what had happened. It's now used in armour plating ... when you want a ductile material and a hard material joined together, that's how you do it."
The resultant bond drives the impurities out and the dual-metal plate is then machined down into the square terminal posts that are screwed onto each cell and linked to create a 210-cell battery that weighs around 300kg.
Senior powertrain engineer Robert Dingli is just as convinced of the export potential of the software used to run the EV Comodore.
"We're written the code from scratch and I expect the proof of concept cars to be more "driveable" than an internal combustion Commodore," he says. "In terms of integrating the various functions on car we don't have the complexity regular engines have to contend with. The ABS and stability control systems in a conventional car have to deal with air-fuel mixtures, transmission shifts and a whole host of other parameters. We don't, and this will be a better driver's car for that."
The pair of electric Commodores already built by EV Engineering aren't the first Commodores to pack a motor.
Holden and the CSIRO built a petrol-electric ECOmmodore concept based on the VT model that was used at the Sydney Olympics Torch Relay in 2000. It was powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine sourced from the Vectra, along with a 50kW electric motor, backed up lead-acid batteries and super-capacitors. Holden announced at the time there were no plans for production ... but it obviously gave someone ideas.
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