The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch. Click for more photos

EDay electric hatch

The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.

  • The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.
  • The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.
  • The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.
  • The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.
  • The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.
  • The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.
  • The Australian-designed sub $10,000 EDay electric hatch.

An electrified Holden Commodore and an electric car that comes equipped with a home energy management system and a custom-designed iPad are the ambitious aims of two Melbourne-based companies started up by former Holden executives.

Ian McCleave, the former Holden director of product planning, has used his knowledge of the Commodore to oversee the development of an electric prototype of the large car, which has achieved backing from global financial services giant and fleet business manager GE.

At the same time Dr Laurie Sparke, the former head of Holden’s now-defunct technology think-tank, Holden Innovation, has teamed with experienced car dealer Robert Lane to produce three alternative fuel prototypes, including an intriguing small electric car that will go on show this week at the 2011 Melbourne motor show.

The divergent paths the pair has taken since leaving Holden puts them on opposite sides of the electric car debate, with Sparke maintaining that the limitations of current battery technology are not suited to larger cars.

He says his EDay small car can drive up to 150km on a charge, but he expects battery development limitations to increase that to only 200km within the next five years.

‘‘It’s a city car, it’s going to be a long time before the energy storage system is going to be up to driving long distances,’’ he says.

‘‘The idea of having an electric-powered Commodore or Falcon is not in the foreseeable future.’’

His former co-worker McCleave begs to differ and says his electric Commodore will be ready to roll within a year with an estimated range of 160km and will have a switchable battery to help overcome range concerns.

“While still early days, we can confidently say that the project is on track to deliver the seven proof-of-concept cars with switchable batteries by mid-2012,’’ he says.

McCleave’s company, EV Engineering, has received a major boost from the support of GE, which owns fleet car supplier Custom Fleet.

‘‘GE is the largest fleet vehicle purchaser in Australia for customers across all industries and, as such, has a good understanding of what customers want in this space,’’ he says.

‘‘This will help us target fleets who’ll derive the greatest benefits from this new technology and provide us with real-time data on their customers’ experience — all value information as we continue to refine energy management systems throughout the vehicle.

“We also look forward to the technical contribution which GE’s global operation can offer. They are leaders in many technologies relevant to EVs and will complement and fill out our existing capabilities.’’

Jim Cock, the managing director of GE’s fleet business, believes Australia fleet operators will increasingly look to add electric vehicles to their transport solutions portfolio.

‘‘We’ll work with EV Engineering to explore the opportunity for making switchable electric vehicles a part of the future solution with those fleets,’’ he says.

Sparke and Lane teamed up five years ago, finding a Chinese manufacturer to build them a range of cars that will include two small electric cars — one of which will be retro-fitted with ultra-efficient petrol and LPG engines — and a sports coupe likely to run on a hybrid drivetrain.

For now, EDay’s focus is on the two small cars, with plans to put a test fleet of 100 electric cars on Melbourne roads by early next year.

‘‘Those are our first 100 test drivers, we’re not going to run them around Lang Lang (Holden’s proving ground), we’re going to run them around Glen Waverley and into Melbourne,’’ Sparke says.

‘‘We’ll choose just one localised area in Melbourne so we can control it better and keep a close eye on it.’’

EDay envisages more for its customers than simply purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle, however. It plans to rollout a ‘‘home energy management strategy’’ with the car, including solar panels, a battery for electric storage and a controller that works with a smart meter to control energy flows between the house and the car.

‘‘The controller takes energy out of storage battery, and perhaps even car battery, to run your home at peak times,’’ Sparke says.

‘‘It recharges as much as it can from the solar panels and then off-peak, in the middle of the night, it takes green power to replenish the system.’’

EDay also plans an innovative leasing model, potentially providing customers with a brand new car every two years. The old model will be fully refurbished and can be returned to its owner at a reduced lease price, or newly leased to another customer. At the end of the car’s life cycle it will be resumed by EDay and recycled.

Another major selling point of the EDay model is that every car will come equipped with an ‘‘EPad’’ — a customed designed, dashboard-mounted tablet display that can control almost every facet of the vehicle’s operation as well as providing instant feedback about the car’s environmental performance.

The tablet will be able to be removed from the car and operated in the same manner as an iPad, and can also remotely control both the car’s charging and its interaction with the home energy network, plus enabling heating and coooling functions.

Avinash Rugoobur, the director of EPad developer Curve Tomorrow, says EDay’s start-up status will mean developments and updates can be fitted in the space of months rather than years.

‘‘What’s exceptionally exciting is the ability really refresh the technology very rapidly. That’s something the automotive industry can’t do,’’ he says.

‘‘With EDay, we bring these things to market in six to 12 months. That really enables you to get into the device space. The auto industry is having a hard time keeping up with people using their smartphones, everyone is living on their smartphone now and they’re really struggling to connect into that.’’

EDay’s Robert Lane says the company has not settled on a distribution model for the cars, but says it is unlikely to establish a large number of traditional showrooms.

‘‘We are a market driven company, so the market will tell us how they want the cars,’’ he says. ‘‘We’ve yet to learn that. Part of the innovation is the new ways of selling the cars as well.’’