The Green Car Innovation Fund summarised

On Friday the 6th of February 2009 I attended a one of the Green Car Innovation Fund (GCIF) consultation sessions being held around Australia. My motivation for attending was primarily to find out how the Fund was going to work and to try to get an idea of the impact of the fund on the Australian car industry.

First, a little background. The Green Car Innovation Fund Framework Paper was released in December 2008 for public comment. The Government is inviting written submissions from interested parties in the Framework Paper. The closing date for written submissions is 5:00pm (Canberra Time) on Thursday, 12 February 2009. Submissions can be sent to:

The Manager
Green Car Innovation Fund

The stated objective of the GCIF is to reduce vehicle fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions by enhancing research and development (R&D) and commercialisation of Australian technologies. It is only applicable to the car industry. Technologies for trucks, buses and motorcycles are not within scope. Nor is anything to do with alternative fuel infrastructure. The GCIF provides $1.3 billion in grants over 10 years beginning in July 2009. That said, Holden and Toyota have already been drinking at the well with their small car and hybrid Camry initiatives to the tune of $149 million and $35 million respectively. The funding is planned to be provided on a $1 for $3 basis.  This ratio may change as a result of the consultation sessions. Most agreed that 1 for 3  was useful for large companies but it was not practical for smaller companies and start-ups.

Grants will be allocated on a competitive basis and are open to all Australian companies or individuals willing for form a company. The funding is available via two steams.

  • Stream A is for the Motor Vehicle Producers (MVP) (Ford, Holden and Toyota). Each MVP will have access to a maximum of $300 million.
  • Stream B is open to all Australian companies, consortia or individuals not included in Stream A. A MVP can be part of a consortium in Stream B but it can’t be the lead applicant.

Importantly, despite the Stream A cap per MVP, there is no defined split in the funds available to Stream A and Stream B. The goal is to provide funding to those technologies that will provide the best results. More on that later.

Funded projects must be undertaken in Australia and directly relate to the creation, acquisition, application or commercialisation of knowledge, technology, processes, materials or products which:

  • are new or additional to the applicant
  • significantly improve the fuel-efficiency or greenhouse gas emissions of passenger motor vehicles

Technology can be acquired Internationally and adapted to use in Australia.

The GCIF will support:

  • R&D
  • Proof-of-concept
  • Early stage commercialisation
  • Pre-production development

The criteria against which applications will be judged are:

  • reduction in fuel consuption or greenhouse gas emissions
  • technical merit, extent and calibre of the innovation
  • capacity and capability of the applicant to undertake the project
  • commercial potential
  • contribution to a competitive Australian automotive industry and benefits to the economy

All the criteria seem logical but the most interesting thing I got from the presentation was the emphasis on that last point. While the fund is looking to reduce the fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions by 10 – 15  percent against the status quo baseline it is also heavily biased towards creating jobs, improving workforce skill sets, providing benefits to suppliers and growing the automotive industry in Australia. In hindsight that is obvious but I guess I went in thinking the Federal Government might actually be focussed on improving the products from our car industry to give local consumers better products and make the vehicles more competitive in export markets. It seems they are as long as that improvement comes with the creation of more jobs. Further information can be found on the GCIF web site.

An interesting aspect to the presentation that I wasn’t expecting was a politician and an inventor using the opportunity to address those assembled to seek support for their individual projects.

Source: Department of Innovation & AusIndustry presentation


Two words for motorcycle manufacturers – fuel economy

While riding my bicycle through the hills today I started thinking about the poor fuel economy achieved by most motorcycles and what attributes would make up my ideal motorcycle. I think well when I’m turning the pedals so after a bit more thought I came up with the following list for what I think is the ideal motorcycle for daily commuting, a bit of weekend riding and the occasional tour.

Fuel economy: Real fuel economy not just “good for a motorcycle”. If a VW Polo diesel can do 5L/100km I want a bike that does better than 4L/100km. Use the latest direct injection technology if you have to. I’m happy to pay for it, particularly if the resulting emissions meet or exceed Euro V standards.

Range: >400km  Australia is a big country and sometimes there is a loooong way between petrol stations.

Power: Enough. Nobody needs 165hp in a motorbike. They might want it but they don’t need it. Few can use that much power and they shouldn’t be using it on public roads anyway. Somewhere in the order of 60 to 80hp would be fine as long as good power and torque are available throughout the rev range. It has to easily accelerate away from cars at traffic lights. Ideally the power of this imaginary machine would be able to be electronically limited to make it accessible to learner riders. Just re-map the engine control unit when the owner has a full license.

Top speed: Enough. 140 – 150kph is enough in Australia where the maximum speed limit is 110kph in most States. The one stipulation is that the bike needs to be able to cruise comfortably at 120kph with two people and luggage. Overtaking road trains in a safe time frame requires good acceleration and a decent speed advantage.

Engine capacity: Under 600cc to reduce registration costs.

Size: I’m 190cm tall. I just don’t fit on small bikes. So, a medium tall bike that is not bulky is ideal. Something that is comfortable for long legs and gets you head up above the traffic.

Comfort: Good seating position and reach to the handlebars for commuting . A comfortable seat. It doesn’t have to be plush but it does have to be comfortable over touring distances. An effective fairing and screen to minimise fatigue and keep the weather at bay. This is a bike that will be ridden in all weather over a variety of distances. To the corner shop or to the other side of the country.

Handling: On the relaxed side of sporty. Good low speed manners but capable of satisfying on a weekend ride through the hills.

Suspension: Good but it doesn’t have to be fantastic. It does however, need to last more than 30,000km (unlike most motorcycle suspension built to a price) and smooth out Australia’s average roads.

Styling: Classic, rounded and aerodynamic. If someone can prove to me that today’s modern styles are more aerodynamic then I’ll accept modern styling.

Practicality: Belt drive because it is quiet and very low maintenance. A centre stand to facilitate easy home maintenance. Factory fitted panniers and top box.

Quality: Made to last 200,000km when maintained correctly and looked after. A dry clutch and separate gearbox oil are a must. It makes no sense to have the clutch in the engine oil and who wants engine oil in the gearbox, particularly when the clutch is in it as well.

Is that too much to ask?

If anyone already makes a bike that matches these criteria I’d be really happy to hear about it. Off the top of my head I can think of two manufactures that could build a bike like this. BMW and Aprilia. Both have suitable engine configurations and both have extensive experience in motorcycle fuel injection systems. Aprilia have an excellent engine and gearbox in their SXV 550 and BMW are using belt drive on their F800 series road bikes.

Car manufacturers are starting to reduce engine power to increase fuel economy. Audi have done it in their S4 and Holden have done it in their V6 and V8 Commodores. Many more will follow and motorcylce manufacturers will need to do the same if they want people to continue buying mid-sized and large bikes for commuting and general transport purposes. If they don’t they may find their market contracts considerably when oil prices go up again.

Locally produced four-cylinder Holden due in 2010

Holden and the Prime Minister held a combined press conference today at the Holden plant in Adelaide to announce the production of a new front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder car at the Elizabeth plant. The new car will be designed and engineered at Port Melbourne in Victoria and will commence production in the third quarter of 2010.

The car will be produced as a result of a co-investment agreement between the Federal Government, Holden and the South Australian Government. The Federal Governement will contribute $149 million under the $6.2 billion New Car Plan for a Green Future which is designed to transform the Australian automotive industry to produce fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles. It is understood the South Australian Government will be contributing $30 million.

The new car will be built on the General Motors global Delta small car platform. The initial models will feature direct-injection petrol and diesel engines. Hybrid engines and engines powered by alternative fuels, including LPG and E85 and CNG, have been mentioned as possibilities for future models.

Can Holden really bring second generation E85 to Australia?

Holden (General Motors) has gained a lot of press coverage from the fact that they are going to introduce locally-built cars that are capable of running on E85 by 2010. The press release was picked up by most major news providers so it was virtually impossible to miss. Just in case you did miss it, here is what the Sydney Morning Herald has to say.

Unfortunately none of the news providers appear to have examined where the ethanol to fuel these vehicles is going to come from and how beneficial it will really be for the environment.  Holden says they are in talks with Coskata in a bid to establish cellulosic ethanol production in Australia. That’s great. The sooner we can move to second generation biofuels the better but a quick read of the Coskata web site suggests their technology isn’t proven on a commercial scale and it also highlights the fact that General Motors made an unspecified investement in Coskata in or before January 2008.

There is no doubt Holden have the technology to produce vehicles that run on E85. General Motors already have the Saab BioPower on sale in Australia and Holden will have access to a raft of flex-fuel technologies from their parent company in the US. The concern here is Holden’s ability, through Coskata, to bring second generation ethanol to Australia at the scale required to fill the fuel tanks of their E85 vehicles. If Holden can’t do this by 2010 they will be expanding the market for first generation ethanol and we’ll be going through the fuel-for-food and first generation ethanol lifecycle emissions debate all over again.