Last year Toyota tried to revive the ailing family car market with the release of the Toyota Camry Hybrid. This year Holden is having a crack with its new range of LPG vehicles, including the Commodore sedan, Sportwagon and Caprice.
It’s the age of the SUV and small car. Rising petrol prices have seen many downgrade to small sized cars or jump into SUVs in an attempt to get a bit more room out of their fuel guzzling family cars. But where does that leave the traditional family car? The Ford Falcon, Toyota Camry, Mitsubishi 380 and Holden Commodore? Well, Camry went for Hybrid technology to keep it alive, the 380 committed suicide while the Commodore and the Falcon went down the LPG path.
When you think about it, it’s a bloody obvious solution for the Australian market. MD of GM/Holden, Mike Devereux, told media today at Holden HQ in Melbourne that more than half the Australian fuel stations offer LPG. That’s around 3,300. The conversion market for LPG from petrol is already doing well thanks to Federal Government subsidies, so why not produce a car that was LPG from the start? It will still be subsidised after all.
While the Ford Falcon EcoLPi LPG car has been hiding in the shadows for whatever reason (you would have to ask Ford why they are keeping this a secret), Holden is getting behind its new range of LPG based cars which includes the Commodore, Caprice, Sportwagon and Ute (in the usual SV6, Berlina, Omega etcetera badges). The cars look exactly the same as their petrol engined counterparts but run LPG instead. The only real difference is that you lose a little bit of luggage space. Around 10 litres with the rear with the design of the LPG tank being built in. You don’t get a big tank of LPG in your boot though, which is a massive bonus. It’s hidden discreetly.
With the cost of LPG at around 40 per cent of the price of regular unleaded petrol and easy access to it, it’s a wonder why it took so long for an LPG Commodore or Falcon to be produced. According to Devereux, it’s simply a matter of killing the stigma of LPG, something which no one has been able to do so far. “People need to understand these systems work,” he said. “I’ll go as far as to admit that even Ford’s is excellent. We need to show people how easy LPG is to use and how cheap it will be for them.” Not only cheap, but a tank of LPG can get you over 700 kilometres.
Richard Marshall, Energy, Environment and Technology Director for Holden, believes that LPG is more than a viable product in the Australian market, and is more than a viable alternative to Hybrids in terms of being green. “Every one of the new LPG range achieves CO2 emissions of under 200grams. The Commodore sits at 189. Australia produces over 2.737 kilotonnes of LPG per annum, yet we only need around 1.8 kilotonnes of it to sustain LPG cars. We have plenty going around, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than regular unleaded and a lot better for the environment too.” According to the Holden press release, “LPG Commodore’s environmental credentials are further bolstered by exceeding stringent Beyond Euro 6 exhaust emissions standards across the range.”
At the end of the day though, people won’t want to drive an LPG car if it’s a dog. And with a nameplate like Commodore, it would want to be good. Holden let the media loose around the Yarra Valley today in a range of the vehicles. We drove the Commodore Berlina, Caprice and SV6 Sportwagon. We won’t go into serious detail about the drive because ultimately, there is no need. If you have ever driven any of the petrol versions of these cars, you will know what the LPG is like to drive. Yes, it is that good. Start up is excellent and will only struggle in seriously cold temperatures (we were told around minus 10 will start to challenge the car but only very slightly).
It’s a seriously brilliant range. The power comes from a 3.6 litre double overhead cam V6 and it still produces 180kW and 320Nm. If you hopped in the LPG cars without knowing they were LPG based, you wouldn’t have a clue. That’s not being generous, that’s being factual. We spoke to a number of motoring journalists at the press event to were convinced that the LPG range from Holden is just as good as the petrol range. The reason is largely to do with the fact that Holden were able to develop the engine specifically for LPG. “This engine has been designed to run solely on LPG and therefore has allowed for design optimisation in several key areas,” the press release states. “The entire LPG fuel system has seen significant development, with new fuel injectors, fuel rail and LPG fuel filter.”
But what about the other issues surrounding LPG? Things like accidents that can cause a car to explode? Or the varying degree of LPG quality around the country? And what about liquid based LPG versus vapour based LPG?
Holden has done countless crash tests and has achieved a 5-star ANCAP safety rating. That’s as good as it’s going to get. Video they showed of the crash tests reveals that while the car may sustain serious damage, the LPG fuel tank will remain intact and steady. It’s not a 100 per cent assurance, there never is, but it’s just as good as any petrol based car.
A bigger issue was the varying degrees of LPG quality around Australia. As it’s not monitored like petrol, you never quite know what you’re putting in your car. The LPG range has that covered as well thanks to the built in system. While your performance can be affected slightly, it will be no more so than if you bought a slightly lower grade of petrol at the bowser.
Finally, when it comes to liquid versus vapour based LPG, Brian McMurray, Programme Engineering Manager fields that one. “We chose vapour injection over liquid. It has lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and is more consistent at start up. It’s true that you do lose a bit of power and torque, but we think we have that sorted with a V6 that pushes out 180kW.”
So, buy a Holden LPG vehicle and you are sure of two things: much cheaper running costs and a car that is every bit as good as its petrol counterpart. But how much is the experience going to cost you? Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, after all, are seriously costly by comparison to similar sized petrol based cars. LPG has been around for ages, so thankfully that makes it extremely economical. The LPG version of the car will cost $2,500 on top of the regular petrol based version.
At the moment the Federal Government is giving you a $2,000 rebate if you buy LPG, so that means it’s only an additional $500. Holden says you will make that back in around six months of regular driving. Better yet, if you buy the Caprice you can get the LPG at no extra cost for a limited time. With a car that size the savings will stack up rather quickly. Again, you will get the Federal Government rebate, meaning an LPG Caprice will actually be $2,000 cheaper than the standard petrol variety.
The family sedan and wagon market is crumbling in Australia, but there is no reason why it should. Families still need space and SUVs don’t have to be the solution. There is no reason why a traditional family sedan can’t do what an SUV can unless you need the off-road capabilities. Holden’s new LPG range is Australian designed and built. So if you want to save some money on running costs, support the Australian car industry, and get a bit of a performance kick too, have a look at a Holden LPG vehicle when they go on sale in March.
Damian Francis has previously edited Australian T3 and F1 Racing magazine and wrote for GQ Australia and Men’s Health. Unlike Nick and Trev, he has no kids, no mortgage and no wife, but lives happily on Sydney’s North Shore with his girlfriend.