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VE Ute tech: Raising the (sports) bar

Sophisticate: Features like stability are claimed to make Holden's Ute unique.

Brains as well as brawn serve to better the breed of Holden's Commodore-based Ute

29 Aug 2007

GM HOLDEN claims its new VE Ute is one of the most sophisticated vehicles of its type in the world.

Beyond the headline-grabbing multi-link suspension system and advanced electronic driver aids like electronic stability control, the two-door coupe-utility boasts body strength and rigidity comparable to the donor VE/WM sedans.

According to Holden, the twin virtues of significant real-world safety protection and modern passenger-car dynamic capabilities are the result, along with segment-leading refinement and comfort.

All are a corollary of the Ute sharing its primary underbody structure with the long-wheelbase WM Statesman/Caprice.

Work on the Ute commenced in December 2004, after the VE/WM sedans were in full flight developmentally. However, the Ute’s wheelhouses, suspension design and basic structure had been taken into account years before, in the early 2000s, with the rest of the sedan range.

The 33-month program added an additional $105 million to Holden’s $1 billion investment in its next-generation rear-wheel drive line-up.

Of the smaller sum, $35 million went towards the engineering of the Ute, with the other $70 million slated for “investment” according to Holden’s engineering director Tony Hyde, who has been with the company since the 1968 HK, and has worked on four “significant” coupe-utility models since – the 1971 HQ, 1990 VG, 2000 VU, and today’s VE.

Interestingly, the VU Ute cost about the same amount to engineer – around $33 million – between 1998 and 2000.

“We have managed to do a far more complex job (with the VE) for about the same money (with the VU eight years earlier),” said Mr Hyde, attributing the productivity boost to extra computer power combined with smarter engineering nous.

A 20-month, 50,000km chassis development program was also part of the Ute’s gestation.

13 center imageThe VE sedan’s Linear Control Suspension system is employed, with detailed changes designed to balance the Ute’s dual role as weekday worker and weekend “sports” car, as Holden calls it. To that end, the suspension has undergone minor reinforcing, while the spring rates and shock rates are different, compared to the sedan. The base Omega Ute also has 30mm more ground clearance than the sportier SV6, SS and SS V models.

Like the sedan, the Ute gains a forward-mounted rack and pinion steering system, a stiffer and stronger engine cradle, a “saddle design” 73-litre fuel tank mounted ahead of the rear axle, and a new differential (with a multi-plate limited-slip diff from SV6 model upwards).

Front-to-rear weight distribution is rated at 53:47, compared to the almost 50:50 ratio enjoyed by the sedan. However, the VE Ute weighs about 160kg more than its predecessor – mainly due to the increase in content and safety. This also affects payload – the standard Omega manual’s, for instance, is 775kg versus the equivalent VZ’s 817kg.

Among the items of progress, Mr Hyde cited the VE’s extra in-cabin storage space, “nice hidden hinges” on the tailgate, and the bespoke Ute tail-light design and the one-piece body panel that envelops it. Besides looking better, the latter improves build quality, adds dimensional stability and aids repeatability over the life of production.

It is also the longest body panel ever pressed at Holden – some 100mm longer than that of the WM sedan.

The primary engine compartment, front floor assembly and rear rail structure is directly carried over from the WM sedan. Additional reinforcements and steel crossmembers were employed to support the tray floor area and to accommodate the spare wheel.

The upshot is an extremely stiff body structure, which contributes to significantly reduced noise, vibration and harshness properties, and improved occupant protection in the event of a crash.

Holden refers to the cabin as a “Space Cabin”, pointing to the fact that the occupant packaging area is identical to the corresponding VE/WM sedan area. Attention to in-cabin underfloor storage availability has liberated an extra 155 litres of volume compared to the 90-litre VZ Ute result – a 172 per cent improvement.

The VE Ute program was completed virtually, and crash and durability modelling were used exclusively to establish the body-in-white design. The process was further streamlined with all test vehicles built off production tooling.

Another first for Holden is the implementation of a lightweight composite floor panel located at the front area of the tray. It reduces mass, improves assembly ergonomics and streamlines production.

Like the VE sedan, the Ute benefits by using high-strength steel, tailor-welded blanks and a “walk-thru” front-end assembly that makes it better, safer, easier to build and cheaper to repair.

Other Ute body engineering-related advances include better corrosion protection, new pull-bar door handles, upgraded door seals and improved door swing. The battery is also in the back, an expensive and complicated solution that increases its life and performance.

All VE/WM variants – including the upcoming wagon – can be built off the same production line. This is a Holden V-car (Commodore) first. One reason why this is so, is that all share the same basic structure from the B-pillar forward.

Holden specialist engineer Rob Trubiani described the VE Ute advances as “a dream roll from an engineer’s perspective”.

Read more:

VE Ute confirmed for US, but not as a Chev

First look: Clean sheet for Holden VE Ute

First look: VE wagon and HSV's smokin' new Maloo

VE Ute design: An alter ego

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