Australians build hybrid-electric “EcoCar”

The Australian automotive industry plans to build a hybrid-electric car that would halve motorists' fuel bills, slash city air pollution, boost exports and take a lead in the world trend to "green" vehicles.

Building on the success of the aXcessAustralia car unveiled in 1998, the “EcoCar” will feature a small, fuel-efficient petrol motor of Australian design, driving a generator and electric motor which provides power to run the vehicle.

“From the outside it will look and perform like a conventional car – but under the bonnet it will have twice the fuel efficiency and emit a tenth of the pollution of a normal vehicle,” says Mr David Lamb, director of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Australian Automotive Technology Centre (AATC).

CSIRO is currently working on two hybrid cars – one in partnership with a leading car corporation and the other with a consortium of more than 80 Australian car component firms.

“Apart from being essential to make our cities cleaner and healthier, the “EcoCar” is intended to prove to the world that Australian industry is competitive when it comes to the next major step in automotive technology. As well as its unique power system, the car will be packed with Australian innovations,” Mr Lamb promises.

These will include several CSIRO technologies:

  • the hybrid petrol-electric power train
  • a surge power unit (or supercapacitor) providing extra boost to the electric motor to enable the car to accelerate swiftly
  • a sophisticated computerised energy management system for optimum efficiency
  • new electric traction motors using switched-reluctance technology
  • novel lead acid battery technology.

The primary aim is to prove to the Australian motoring public that a hybrid power train can deliver the same performance expected of a conventional petrol engine – using far less fuel, costing less to run and with a considerable reduction in emissions.”

Mr Lamb says it is important for Australia to develop its own hybrid vehicle, in order to maintain local jobs and support the industry’s goal of achieving $6 billion in exports.

“If we don’t look ahead at the sort of cars we’ll be driving early in the 21st century, we may find they are mostly manufactured overseas and imported,” he warns. “Overseas car companies usually don’t use foreign suppliers in these kinds of projects. If there was no local manufacture of hybrid power units, Australian industry could miss out in future.

Mr Lamb says there is a universal concern among city people about declining air quality. Motor vehicles are currently responsible for between 70 and 90 per cent of urban air pollution. They also produce about 17 per cent of total greenhouse emissions, but the big concern is the 38% increase predicted by 2010.

“Any serious attempt to reduce city air pollution has to involve a rethink of the motor car and its power source. That’s what the Australian “EcoCar” is all about.

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