Today’s advent of hybrids and electric models was in its infancy 20 years ago, with Holden having a crack of its own.
Previewing the future direction of the motoring world, the Holden ECOmmodore was a concept released in 2000 featuring a hybrid powerplant developed in association with the CSIRO and more than 20 local suppliers.
It was produced to showcase the technology used by most new car buyers by 2020, but in fact this estimate proved a little late as hybrid became more prevalent during the mid-2000s thanks to Toyota.
The CSIRO predicted the ECOmmodore was to cost only $3000 more than a normal variant due to the added technology, which was a world-leading battery system and the conventional 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine found in the Vectra.
Developed during an 18 month period at a cost of $10 million, it was said at the time of its launch a Commodore using this type of powerplant was to be production-ready in eight years.
“There is no reason this could not be ready to go into production in eight years but there are other factors which are likely to delay it,” said David Lamb, head of the CSIRO’s automotive technology arm.
“Its success largely depends on what sort of green conscience we have and how the industry communicates the advantages of the technology.
“If more holes appear in the ozone layer and we see a sudden change in the world’s climate we could see more urgency with cars such as this.”
Using the underpinnings of a Commodore wagon, the body was modified to enhance the aerodynamics to further build on strong fuel economy. Featuring a sleek roofline, the reduction of drag co-efficient was at 0.04 compared to the production model.
Lightweight materials were used throughout to even the extra kilos added by the heavy batteries and extra equipment required to run the hybrid system.
This included plastic windows, aluminium floor and engine, while wheels alongside the brakes were made out of steel. Fibreglass was used for the fenders and rear doors as the boot was carbon fibre leaving the bonnet, roof, front doors and fenders remaining in steel.
Subjected to 11 patents, the CSIRO batteries were housed in the spare wheel well and ultra-low resistance tyres further reduced fuel consumption.
Weight proved a major problem in the early uses of this hybrid technology, but the CSIRO battery system combated this.
“The problem with the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrid cars is that they use nickel-hydride batteries, the same technolgy used in mobile phones,” Lamb said.
“The batteries those cars use weigh about 150kg and cost $US20,000 ($35,000). We’ve developed a battery pack and supercapacitor that, combined, weighs 115kg and costs $2,000. That is what makes this project so attractive and so feasible.”
According to reports further improvements were to be made including reducing the size of the batteries, but of course this project was stillborn.
Imagine if the Commodore turned hybrid? Did it have potential as a feasible option?