Suspension behaviour, the VE Commodore and hybrids

Posted on July 14th, 2007 in Hybrid Power,Opinion,Suspension,Technologies by Julian Edgar

107787_4mg.jpgThe other month I found myself commuting 160 kilometres each day, most of that on two, three and four lane freeways. When everyone’s travelling at basically the same speed, it’s an ideal opportunity to look at the suspension behaviour of other cars. For several kilometres of bumps, you can literally eyeball from close quarters the front or rear wheels of a car travelling at 100 km/h.

One of the interesting things is watching the front dynamic camber variations. Theory says that you want a neg camber increase in bump, primarily to keep the outside, loaded tyre closer to vertical as the car rolls. But theory also says that this dynamic camber increase is pretty well impossible to achieve with MacPherson strut suspension, unless the steering axis inclination is radical (which in turn brings other problems).

And can’t you just see it in action when you watch adjoining cars!

On my local roads, the (pre VE) Commodores and nearly all Japanese and European small cars have front wheels that just move up and down. But watch a Falcon, or any of the European cars with double wishbones, and you can see clear dynamic camber variations.

And the same thing applies at the back, except this time the wheels just moving up and down are those connecting to torsion beam rear axles (FWD cars) or solid rear axles (RWD cars). On cars with multi-link or wishbone suspensions, the camber change is quite obvious to the eye. Of course I’m not talking about much variation – perhaps a few degrees. But you can still see it.

If you’re really lucky, you might get next to a VW Beetle or old swing-axle Mercedes. Then you’ll see camber variation over bumps that’s quite amazing… too much of a good thing becoming a bad thing…

I’ve written before about the size of the VE Commodore, but I have to say it again. I just can’t get over how huge they are. I was behind one in traffic the other day, and I kid you not, I reckon the boot line was higher than the roof of many cars. Certainly, the bread and butter Holden is a car bigger than even current prestige cars, machines like the twin turbo Mercedes V12 I saw on the same day.

Sure, you can say how lucky we are in Australia having such cars available for comparatively tiny money, but it seems like a long-term hiding to nothing, building cars to fill what in world terms is now an almost irrelevant niche. Maybe there are enough of those niches to add up to an export lifeline, but somehow I don’t think so.

When the Australian car-making industry collapses, I think that today’s car company product planners will have been largely to blame.

I’ve loved hybrid cars from the moment I first drove an NHW10 Japanese market Prius. The concept of using an electric motor (max torque when stopped) together with a petrol engine (fuel available everywhere) and a battery pack allowing the collection of regen energy is a no-brainer in terms of clear advantage. But it might be obvious to me (and maybe you) but it sure as hell has taken a long time for some major car manufacturers to wake up.

In fact, I reckon that the advent of the modern hybrid, created and promoted by Honda and Toyota, will be seen in the future as a massive turning point for the global car industry. It marks the move for the centre of automotive engineering innovation from Europe to Japan. And lest you underestimate that, except for a short time in the 1920s (where the US, in the shape of GM – and especially because of a man called Kettering – made some major and important innovations), the centre of car development has previously always been Europe, and most specifically Germany.

It’s almost funny seeing companies like BMW, DaimlerChrysler and Bosch desperately trying to climb onto the hybrid bandwagon. After years of sneering, belittling and castigating, they have suddenly realised with a Godawful shock that they are literally a decade behind Toyota.

Who would argue that the hybrid Lexus LS600h isn’t the most advanced luxury car in the world?

Toyota is now the world’s best-selling manufacturer and has truckloads of cash. They’re about as likely to squander a decade-long lead in technology as they are about to stop making cars. The Europeans and American car companies (but do any of the latter have any money left?!) are running hard, but I can’t see them coming up trumps. In fact, I think their only chance is a super clean diesel hybrid (but one that doesn’t require you carry around with you a tank full of urine – oh, haven’t you heard about the Bluetec urea additive?).

The next Prius will be very interesting indeed.

10 Responses to 'Suspension behaviour, the VE Commodore and hybrids'

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  1. Grant McAuliffe said,

    on July 25th, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Not enough of a niche to add up to an export lifeline? The biggest export success of the Holden line up is the Statesman, which is also the biggest. Need we mention that the heart of the Commodore (the engine) is also exported for use in Saabs, Alfas etc etc. Or that the platform (ie exporting of our Engineering expertise) will sit under the next Camaro.

    Do you really think small cars (which cost just as much to Engineer as large cars) and hybrids are the solution to the Australian Manufacturing Industry? I would have thought that fundamental to the survivial of the industry is the ability to turn a profit – something which is much easier to do on large cars than small. And lets not mention Hybrids – do you seriously think Toyota makes a profit on the Prius?

  2. Evan Smith said,

    on July 27th, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    “It’s almost funny seeing companies like BMW, DaimlerChrysler and Bosch desperately trying to climb onto the hybrid bandwagon. After years of sneering, belittling and castigating, they have suddenly realised with a Godawful shock that they are literally a decade behind Toyota.”

    It’s hardly a desparate climb into the bandwagon. BMW and GM have been working together for some years now on a north-south configured hybrid. Unlike the Prius setup, which is, funnily enough limited only to the Prius (if they were really that great, or well engineered for that matter, Toyota would be putting them into everything they could), the GM/BMW hybrid works off any north-south engine (just required the right adapter) as the electric motor is in the gearbox itself. Not only that, but Holden announced in the launch of the VE that the VE has been designed to accomodate this techology for future use. As well as AWD. As well as diesel. So, in the future it’s quite possible that Holden will bring out the world’s only diesel hybrid AWD sedan, or maby a 6L V8 hybrid for all we know. The fact of the matter is, Toyota’s Prius is ridiculously limited. Fair call, they were the ones that made the big leap first, but everyone else is, and is going to, do it a lot better, and in a lot more cars than just the one model.

  3. FanTheFlames said,

    on July 30th, 2007 at 12:36 am

    You claim ‘Sure, you can say how lucky we are in Australia having such cars available for comparatively tiny money’. The only reason the large cars are so cheap here is because of protectionism, ie the 10% tariff and other taxes such as luxury car tax. If the car market was a level playing field i think you would find much of the imported cars becoming cheaper and would be questioning the value of our local cars. We seriously pay too much for the equivalent cars compared to what the rest of the world pays and that gives one the illusion that our cars are superior in value.

    To add further insult,there is clear example of price gouging in the Australian Car market as our locally manufactured cars are exported to the U.S and available cheaper there! Take the new Pontiac G8 which is our VE SS here, goes halfway across the world and still ends up being cheaper than what we pay at a Holden dealer up the road from the factory Elizabeth in South Australia.

  4. Michael Pollard said,

    on September 20th, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    I am stunned at the comment that the VE’s are huge. I am 6’4″ tall and my two daughters are both 5’10” and still growing. My wife is 5’4″ tall. The Holden was the only sedan under $60,000 that we could actually fit in. That is, all of the other vehicles, including the current Falcon, did not have enough room for my daughters to sit behind me when I drove. I am only pleased that I didn’t have to face this with my father’s situation of having a family of husband, wife, two sons and two daughters, as I haven’t seen a sedan which seats 6 people in the under $60,000 range. And as for fitting in three males at 6’2″, 6’3″ and 6’4″ – forget about it. Although we had several cars which fitted us all in when I was growing up, the current market has totally failed families which are larger or which include bigger men. That is, an increasing number of Australian families (at least so far as the size of the males is concerned). (And don’t get me started about the midget shoes which are now made for Australain men!!)
    Well done Holden for a great product which is designed for the real Australian family.

  5. Dean Wilson said,

    on December 9th, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Quite disturbing reading all these complaints when I got a much worse case with no help.
    I’ve recently purchased a brand new Sv6 feb 2008 atomic green from Holden Dealership for $41,900.
    My front right, as well as my front left now have a loud clunk as if there’s metal shifting out of place at any speed loud enough for people to turn around & look. As well of a sound of a metal rod vibrating (ruler on desk.) driving with the camber of the road sets it off as well as accelerating and braking
    I have taken it back to Holden on two occasions, first time they said it was only the sway bar bushes and there was the wrong size fitted. After getting it back there was still that ‘knock so I returned it for the second time to only hear it was the engine mounts this time and that the engine mounts get real loose as if there shifted.
    I was happy they have diagnosed the problem, but I received it back the second time, quiet for the first day and still have the clunk and the metal ruler sound. Sometimes really bad. There’s clearly something wrong with this car. Something is shifting and causing the engine mounts to shift. I Dont feel confident driving it.
    I am totally not satisfied with the vehicle and want something done about this. On two occasions I’ve heard off Holden that there’s been a lot of customers with same problem and there still trying to find out what it is . That was enough for me. Whats the story Holden? You spent over $1billion on the car and only for what?
    I’ve booked it In for another time, this time he wants to go for a drive to hear the noise only I bet it doesn’t happen and he will take me for a fool. This noise Comes about mostly first 10 mins of driving from cold car so I hope there’s something.
    H E L P! Any suggestions?

  6. George said,

    on January 14th, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Dean, I have exactly the same noise coming from my VE Clubsport, has the source of the noise been found ? Dealer can not find where the noise is coming from.

  7. Dean Wilson said,

    on March 16th, 2009 at 12:33 am


  8. Daniel said,

    on August 9th, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    I have a VE Calais that makes exactly the same noise, it only comes from what I think is right front suspension system, it sounds like something is moving. It mainly occurs in first 10 mins of driving. alot like yours, I think there should be a recall! as Dean said, Holden has spent 1 Billion dollars on this car. It should be perfect

  9. Dominic Trim said,

    on September 7th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    I have an SV6 Wagon with the same problem. I work for a national car suspension company and we are trying to locate the problem at the moment. This is the second time I have tried to locate it. I have a lot of uprgraded suspension in the car so we are removing that and replacing with original to elimate them from the issue. We went over all the suspension and check to see if everything is tight and did not change the noise. I hope I can post the fix soon.

  10. Dominic Trim said,

    on September 7th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I have now fixed my knock in the front, It was found to be the front swwaybar links. We removed both of them and took the car for a drive and there was no knock. We then replaced them with some Pedders Suspension ones and still no knock.