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Aluminium panels for Commodore

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Aluminium panels for Commodore

Barry Park

December 17, 2010

A flatter underbody has helped save more fuel, but what’s next?

Lightweight materials will help Holden's large car lose weight, writes Barry Park.

Holden may use expensive aluminium panels to get fuel use of its Commodore down to a figure that would put many mid-sized cars to shame.

Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux says the company is aiming to get the Commodore's fuel use down to a target of about 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres — 8 per cent less than the current 3.0-litre V6's official fuel use average of 9.1L/100km — as the car maker prepares for the roll-out of its 2012 version of the large family car later next year.

The figure is less than many smaller, less-powerful, four-cylinder, mid-sized cars — including the popular Toyota Camry — although many brands are also rushing fuel-saving technologies to market.

The main target for helping the Commodore achieve the stellar fuel use figure, he says, is shedding weight.

But while minor exterior tweaks were made to the Series II Commodore released earlier this year — Holden "doesn't make changes for change's sake", according to Devereux — the car maker is expected to introduce some radical changes to the way it builds the car.

One of the biggest changes Holden is expected to make is the use of aluminium on some body panels. The lightweight metal costs about twice as much as making the same component from much heavier steel but according to Martyn Cray, the executive director of manufacturing operations who oversees the smooth running of Holden's South Australian car-making factory and its Melbourne-based engine-making plant, technological advances mean the softer metal is becoming much easier to use.

"Aluminium is quite easy to work with now," he says. "We now have the processes that can fold it into any shape we need."

Some expensive luxury cars, such as the Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ, already use body panels made entirely of aluminium but more affordable vehicles have so far limited the material's use to individual panels, such as the bonnet.

Holden is expected to follow the path of European car makers by using alumin-ium for the Commo-dore's bonnet to shed several kilograms of bulk. It could also follow the lead of several other foreign car makers and introduce plastic front guards to the car.

Cray says it is also becoming much easier for car makers to fix composite material such as carbon fibre to metal, giving high strength without the associated weight penalty.

Former Holden boss Mark Reuss — now president of General Motors' North American operations — set the Commodore on a path of intensive weight reduction and efficiency improvements during his tenure, even making the spare tyre an option and developing an underbody tray to improve aerodynamics.

Other weight-saving measures mooted previously for the Commodore include lighter seats and electric power steering, which also places less drain on the engine.

Holden's design team is expected to spend another six months on the next-generation Commodore, which will still use the large rear-drive Zeta platform so far used only on the Commodore and the Chevrolet Camaro.

The company says it will make a decision on the underpinnings of the next-generation Commodore, due about 2015 or 2016, early next year but has confirmed it will continue as a large rear-drive car.

"We're still very confident about the long-term future of locally made, large rear-wheel-drive family and performance cars," Devereux says.

Holden has also confirmed it will build a dedicated LPG version of the Commodore, finally matching the rival Falcon and giving a lower-cost alternative to petrol.

"This allows us to optimise the engine performance specifically for LPG and get better performance and economy," says Devereux, who describes it as a "very sophisticated" set-up.

Holden will next year also make the Commodore's larger 3.6-litre V6 capable of running on E85, a blend of petrol and up to 85 per cent ethanol.



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