Saturday, March 31, 2018


The Australian Federal Government, which is already having difficulty balancing its budget books, is being asked to stump up AUD$3.2 billion to build ‘Fast-Charging’ stations and related infrastructure to speed the growth in sales of Electric vehicles.

A report compiled for the Electric Vehicle Council by PwC estimates there will be three million EVs on Australian roads by 2030, so the Federal Government should hurry up sidelining the funds to support this soaring growth in EVs!

What absolute Bullshit! Yes, Bullshit, with a capital ‘B’.

Not only is this a totally far-fetched scenario; Guess where the modelling came from? The modeling to arrive at this result was informed by the Electric Vehicle Council – thereby using PwC as the communication tool for its own ideals!

This is a case of: "Here's the result we want, so work backwards from here to design the modelling to get there!"

(NOTE: Whenever you see the words: "According to modelling by ....." Stop, right there! Don't accept what follows as fact, ask yourself: Who did the modelling? How big was the sample? Who paid for the modelling? What were the parameters? Who does this result benefit?

'Modelling' is just a fancy name for 'conjecture' - according to a specific starting point, using available facts arranged however you want them, to end in a result you want. Change any of the variables and you can have any result you like, according to 'Modelling'.)

The EVC report outlines incredible savings in costs and carbon emissions and completely overlooks the community’s need and/or desire to be driving EVs. A recent survey of more than 10,000 members of Australian’s motoring clubs revealed that less than 10% of those questioned showed any impetus or desire to own an electric vehicle.

The car industry also wants the Federal Government to chip in some taxpayer dollars to subsidize the purchase price of brand new electric cars; presumably because the industry’s own modeling reveals that their customers don’t want them, unless they’re the same price, or only slightly more expensive than a conventional petrol-fuelled car.

There’s another conundrum completely unrelated to the growth of electric vehicles, and that is the capability and reliability of electricity actually being available from the national grid to power EVs. Already the Left-leaning socialist governments of the States of Victoria and South Australia have begun shutting down their coal-fired power stations, stating that they can meet base-load supplies via wind and solar power! Another load of utter bullshit.

Those two states are already having difficulty providing enough base-load power for their customers, without facing total breakdown on supply.

So, in another scenario, I live in a small estate of 75 homes, and if just 7 homes (10%) changed to a total EV fleet of family cars, then recharging them constantly would threaten the stability of supply of electricity to the remainder of homes, for such mundane things as cooking/heating/cooling/lighting!

The PwC report says it is confident that won't happen! That's because its modelling did not cover this eventuality.

However, carefully placed near the end of the report in The Australian newspaper’s story on the EV Council’s call for AUD$3.2 billion government funding, was this prescient paragraph about the actual environmental benefits of going all-electric Down Under.

I sincerely hope there are some level heads in the current Government (and the Opposition) and the Public Service, which will throw out these calls for EV purchase price subsidies, and funding for infrastructure, because there simply isn’t any demand for EVs in Australia.

Australians consistently cover longer distances in our car journeys than other parts of the world, and the public is already freaked out over ‘range anxiety’ issues of just how many kilometres they will really be able to travel on a full charge.

Here’s a sobering assessment of the global impacts from Roger Andrews in the newsletter, ENERGY MATTERS:

There’s also the problem of the ancillary equipment needed to make the system work. Grid upgrades to handle the increased power flows will cost money, and installing charge/discharge plugs in millions of homes and apartment blocks won’t be cheap either. Neither will the subsidies that will almost certainly be necessary to induce people to buy EV s in the first place ($10,000/EV for 25.8 million EVs, for example, works out to $258 billion).
And somehow all these millions of installations will have to be linked together so that charging occurs when surplus power is available and discharging occurs when is isn’t – provided that the vehicle is plugged in and not out driving around somewhere and that the owner has remembered to plug it in.
And also provided that bursts of non-synchronous energy from millions of EV batteries don’t crash the National Grid.
And further provided, of course, that everyone has an EV to begin with. Will the auto industry be able to manufacture and market enough of them? According to the NASDAQ projections shown in the Figure below there’s a good chance it won’t.

NASDAQ projects that there will be only about 400 million EVs in the world by 2040. Somewhere around 2 billion EVs would be needed for a 100% global EV fleet in 2040:

I have no doubt that Electric Vehicles have a place in our future, but using taxpayers' money to supercharge their introduction is just not on.

Now, working towards infrastructure to support widespread availability of hydrogen gas, to enable the rapid development of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles just may be a far better use of infrastructure spending.

We know FCEVs are kinder to the environment; and economical to operate; we just need to be able to produce sufficient supplies of hydrogen gas in an environmentally-friendly process; and work out a deal, or legislate, to have oil companies provide hydrogen refueling capabilities at their service stations.

And remember, the only thing emitted from the tailpipe of an FCEV is water vapour!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


In October 2017 GM-Holden shut down all its local manufacturing operations in Australia, and the company reverted to becoming an importer. What are the impacts? They are many and varied.

On the local front there is the instant evaporation of a market for the component suppliers, which has a huge knock-on effect in employment of both skilled and semi-skilled workers, associated with, but not directly involved in full vehicle manufacture.

Not to mention of course the loss of jobs for all those GM-Holden employees who were employed directly in manufacturing cars. So, the Holden Commodore, an Aussie icon, disappears from the market, with its fans and owners wailing and gnashing their teeth on the sidelines.

But, what of the future of the company itself? Fine, thank you very much.

Whether GM-Holden makes cars locally, or imports them fully built-up matters little. They are just products, to sell via the national Holden dealership network, and hopefully make profit from. The pain is borne by everyday Australians who have lost their jobs as participants in Australia’s shrinking pool of indigenous manufacturing industries. 

I should point out that as an industry observer and commentator, I knew this day was inevitable, and local manufacturing would end at some point. It was just a matter of economics and time.

GM-Holden however, released from the shackles of being a local carmaker, now has a much brighter future.

Truth be known, all three of the companies which made cars in Australia (Ford/Holden/Toyota) would have happily given up long ago had it not been for community and political pressure. It was never profitable, and quite frankly, a pain in the backside to keep subsidizing.

So, as I said before, now GM-Holden, like its competitors, is released from limiting its range of offerings alongside the vehicles it made locally, and it now has unfettered opportunity to be more profitable, and benefit from a faster turnaround in tailoring its product offerings, based on model changes to its international portfolio of products.

Australians are about to see the new ZB Holden Commodore on the nation’s roads, or rather, the German-built (rebadged) Opel Insignia with considerable local engineering, and massaging for the local market.

However, the situation is starkly clearer, with the launch of the new Holden Equinox SUV, a prime example of the benefits of dropping the 'albatross' of local manufacturing. All Equinox models are made in Mexico.

Equinox replaces the atrocious Captiva, made in Korea at the old Daewoo manufacturing plant. Captiva was primitive in its drivability and NVH, it was cheaply trimmed and generally a poor excuse as a Holden challenger for the highly-competitive products already well established in the medium SUV segment.

But, GM-Holden had little choice. It sank all its investment funds into supporting local manufacture of Commodore and Cruze, thus it had to be stringently budget-conscious when adding vehicles to broaden its range and appeal to Australian buyers.

Now, the floodgates can open, and GM-Holden has unlimited options for vehicle choice, from any of GM’s international operations.

Chevrolet’s Equinox was redesigned in 2014 for the 2015 model year, and this is the SUV, which we now see in Holden showrooms. The changes for the Australian model are limited to a different grille and Holden badges.

Design credits for the latest Equinox are Jeff Perkins (Exterior); Chris Gamble (Interior) and Australian Mara Kapsis who was lead designer for color and trim.

In fact interior trim is one of the areas where GM is trying something new and innovative.

The seat fabric is a black, denim-style which blends style with durability. The leather facings also feature a new treatment, which is intended to resist staining and scuffing.

Another element worthy of mention is that the scuttle panel (which connects the base of the A-pillars) has been lowered which drops the height of the dash, providing better forward vision for front seat occupants. All of these features are afforded by the new platform, and upper structure design.

Once again GM has turned to a ‘kneeling’ rear seat design, where the squabs fold forward, allowing the backrests to fold down for a completely flat loading floor.

Another important element is the reduced overall size of the vehicle. Despite being shorter bumper-to-bumper by 4.7ins, the designers have increased interior volume by 3.5 cubic feet.

However, as GM’s Design Chief Michael Simcoe pointed out to me, the shorter overall length posed another challenge - aero efficiency - because it’s tougher to push a shorter shape through the air.

This challenge resulted in more than 500 hours spent in the GM full-scale wind tunnel, which maintained the essence of the shorter design, but reduced wind resistance by 10% over the previous model.

Michael Simcoe told me that the GM designers are spending at least the same amount of time using the wind tunnel to further refine the shape and wind resistance (Cd) of all of the corporate model lineup, which benefits not only fuel economy, but also vehicle control, and stability.

There is one element I find fascinating, and that is the 'active' louvres which form part of the grille on US models, where sustained freeway speeds require attention to redirecting airflow, without creating increased drag.

At town speeds the louvres remain open, but shut completely at highway speeds, increasing the efficiency of the airflow around the front of the vehicle.

I know that small and subtle aerodynamic changes have a huge effect on both design and airflow efficiency. I photographed some of the subtle mouldings on the tail lamps of a current Chevy Malibu, which highlights the detail changes which interrupt airflow to create maximum airflow efficiency.

All of this supplemental design work at a corporate level ensures the whole model range achieves the efficiency and fuel economy gains which are vital to overall efficiency.

For me, it shows that a mass volume car producer like GM is leaving no stone unturned to deliver greater efficiency and economy, thanks to both design and aerodynamics.

Small developments, such as the moulded ridges on a taillamp lens (above), can command large chunks of the development budget, which can be critical barriers to small volume producers like Holden.

Which is another reason that the change from manufacturer to importer means Holden benefits from corporate resources spent on vehicles which have a wider market availability, thereby achieving savings for both the company and the customer from greater economies of scale.

Makes you wonder why local manufacturing in Australia lasted as long as it did?

However, what is in no doubt in my mind is that Holden now has a really strong competitor in the intensely-competitive medium SUV sector with the new Equinox.

Monday, March 26, 2018


No need to comment. It seems the Romans knew a thing or two about making things last.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


“Can a German-built Holden Carry the Commodore Flag?”

The answer, is an emphatic ‘NO’. But more of that later, let’s get to the good bits.

If the car you see ‘On My Drive’ was assigned to me as a company car, I would be delighted.

It’s a pleasure to sit in, drive, cover the kilometres, and it’s practical to boot. Actually, it’s a hatchback, but just like the Skoda Superb, it’s a cavernous space, so the limo companies will love it.

The new Commodore is quiet, well-mannered, and the control inputs and outcomes are just so responsive and positive. It’s a triumph for all the effort expended on the basic Opel Insignia package by the Australian development team. 

The interior layout is clean, very well laid-out, with a minimalist touch in terms of the number of buttons and switches.

The instrument pack is a classic layout, well-executed.

The ride is outstanding, the control and drivability is superb, and the handling is not just comfortingly predictable, but truly enjoyable.

From a pricing and value perspective GM-Holden has done well with the model price structure. It's designed to present an excellent value proposition.

By the way, if you're wondering why it only has a three year warranty, well cost-wise, that was a bridge too far. I'm not sure how GM-Holden's internal transfer pricing arrangements work  - whether it pays for ZB in US dollars or Euros, but whatever, it's already probably taking a bath on what it pays to import it to Australia.

But, is it a Commodore? Especially because it follows hard on the heels of the locally-built Commodore which is disappearing from view?

Well NO, it’s a completely different animal, and herein lies the problem.

When this car was first mooted as the replacement for the Australian-built car, I said that the last thing GM-Holden should do, is call it a Commodore.

It would have made the marketing job far easier if it was badged Holden Insignia, just as it was during a brief sojourn on the Australian market between 2015-16.

The Commodore image is so strong, having been launched in Australia 40 years ago, in 1978. Of course, the early design and development of that car was solely in the hands of the Opel team in Russelsheim, Germany. This 1976 scoop photo (right) of the first Opel Commodore being tested above the Arctic Circle reveals how similar the Holden Commodore was, when it launched two years later.

To make matters worse, GM-Holden was dealt another blow in the presentation of the ZB Commodore, when GM’s Chair and CEO Mary Barra offloaded the Opel and Vauxhall companies to France’s Groupe PSA.

PSA has now confirmed that the legacy platforms which it inherited, will be phased out quickly, and replaced by cars built using Groupe PSA platforms and powertrains.

This means the brand new, Australian-focussed ZB Commodore is a one-generation car, so if it takes your fancy, buy one now – it’ll probably become a collectible!

But, I repeat, as it is now, this new Commodore is a tour-de-force and I defy anyone to not enjoy driving it.

It’s different – front wheel drive versus rear wheel drive; transverse four pot versus either a V6 or V8; sedan versus hatchback. However, none of that matters – as the locally-built Commodore was going to disappear, the GM-Holden team has made a hell of a car from Opel’s basic recipe.

Yes, the styling looks little different to the European Insignia, apart from various shiny bits and badges; but the real revelation is under the skin. It’s lighter, smaller, more economical, just as roomy, and tight as a drum.

But, now to the car ‘On My Drive’ – the upmarket Calais version.

Holden’s pitch for extra profit started back when the HR Holden debuted in 1966, when the company added the ‘Premier’ version to the range. It was basically identical to every other model except for different trim, shiny bits, Premier badges, and that all-important fatter pricetag.

It was intended to appeal to either the bosses of the business, or those who thought their status in life deserved to be celebrated by a more expensive-looking version of whatever the plebs were driving. As long as cars have been sold, it’s been a successful formula to wring a few more percentage points of profit out of the same old thing, albeit with a bit more gloss and glamour.

The ‘Premier’ became a successful marketing exercise, and each ensuing model change was an important contributor to both sales and profits, that is until the ‘highline’ Premier morphed into the ‘Calais’.

As soon as the ZB Calais arrived home, I couldn’t wait to foist it onto some neighbours who were all owners of Calais of varying vintages.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the brand new Calais got the thumbs-down from all of them. They collectively felt that the new car didn’t look special, didn’t feel special, didn’t hold any ‘special appeal’ and they simply could not see the value which the Calais pricetag commanded.

So, after that I lined up four more neighbours, who all drive varying highline Japanese/German/French sedans. They spent a lot of time analyzing the trim, the fittings, the features, and asking me about performance, powertrain and packaging.

For the GM-Holden suits I’m afraid the answer was, universally, the same.

Actually, I didn’t tell any of them it was a Calais, I just told them it was ‘a new Commodore’ and they thought it was pretty good for the mid-range, high volume model. Some remarked that they’d be keen to see the ‘upmarket’ version, and when I revealed that this was it – the numbers on the pricetag immediately lost about 40% of their value!

I’m sure the GM-Holden executives, especially its new marketing suit, Mark Harland, already know this. The battle for the company is always how to equip, price and sell the model range-topper for ever-increasing levels of profit.

However, it’s my opinion as good as the ZB is, the Calais is definitely NOT special.

I’m not sure what it will take, but most of the attention should be paid to the interior. It’s just too plain.

It may be subtle, understated and well built, but there is NOTHING about this car that tells everyone (including the buyers) just WHY they spent the extra dosh. 

Still, GM-Holden will only have this car for between 4-5 years, and then the company will have to start all over again - dressing up, and pricing a French-designed range of Holdens! That is, unless Mary Barra ceases her relentless sell-off of GM’s far flung empire, and she decides to keep Holden, changing its name to Chevrolet, and bringing in all the new metal from the good old USA.

In my view that would be far more practical, cost-effective, more flexible and most importantly, more profitable – depending on the exchange rate. Regardless of the emotional reaction to the disappearance of the Holden name, it would be a good business decision.

If the Aussie dollar continues the downward slide it’s reputedly going to suffer over the next ten years, then Aussies buying Chevys could be a much more profitable exercise for GM - and isn't that's what it's all about.

Oh! What's that? Customers, you ask?
They'll have to suck it up!