Holden aims for a cleaner future

Echoing the global trend for small, fuel-efficient cars, the Australian arm of General Motors has plans to develop an eco-friendly car by 2010.

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Echoing the global trend for small, fuel-efficient cars, the Australian arm of General Motors has plans to develop an eco-friendly car by 2010. GM Australia is set to benefit from a A$1.3 billion (Dh 2.95 billion) "green fund" established by prime minister Kevin Rudd to encourage the production of environmentally sound vehicles. While GM has gone to the federal government asking for money, their Australian counterparts have instead been given cash from the Australian government to the tune of A$149 million (Dh389 million) over three years. This is part of the "New Car Plan For A Green Future" programme aimed at encouraging Australian car makers to make more responsible vehicles.

Preliminary sketches show the car will be based on the Delta, a GM-designed global small car platform with saloon and hatchback body types. It will be a front-wheel drive, four-cylinder vehicle. The early designs promise a sleek, streamlined car with sharp grille, but a GM spokesman says the final design has not yet been signed off. The price will be also be "competitive", according to GM. GM Australia is confident the Delta's production will support more than 500 jobs at the plant at Elizabeth, South Australia, as well as a similar number of supplier jobs. GM also claims a production date of late 2010.

"As the Delta architecture is already developed, it will be possible. Given approvals were completed in Dec 2008, we are on target for the third quarter of 2010," the spokesman told The National. A number of different engines are being considered by GM for the Delta. "We are looking at a variety of four cylinder powertrains for this vehicle including petrol and diesel variants," says the spokesman. "There is potential to include hybrid technology and capacity to run on E85, LPG and Compressed Natural Gas but further details will be announced closer to the time of production."

The business plan for the Delta does not include export numbers because a conservative approach has been taken to the economics of the vehicle, but GM is not ruling out exporting the car. "There is potential for an export programme, if we have the flexibility to prepare the vehicle for other brands," says the spokesman. The Delta project isn't GM Australia's only green project. GM is looking at alternative fuel sources as well as fuel-saving opportunities. At the green car launch, GM Australia managing director, Mark Reuss said the long-term plans for future hybrid and fuel-economy technology "complement the vision we share with the Government of reducing dependence on foreign oil."

Reuss also commented on the ability for projects such as the small eco-car to offer stability to GM Australia's workforce. "At a time when short-term economic factors require a conservative approach, it is pleasing to provide long-term direction to our workforce," he said. "These are challenging times but we have clear direction and from that we will emerge stronger". One such commitment GM Australia has made is to have the entire locally produced range capable of running on E85 ethanol by 2010. The Holden Commodore, GM Australia's flagship car, sold as the Chevrolet Lumina in the UAE, has also come under the eco-boffins' scrutiny with the ECOmmodore, a prototype hybrid-electric car, unveiled back in 2000 at the Melbourne Motor Show, and again in Detroit at the North American Auto Show in 2001. It has not yet gone into production and no date has yet been confirmed. The Delta-based, fuel-efficient car, however, is expected to be a more realistic way for GM Australia to seriously produce low-emissions cars.

glewis@thenational.ae