14/05/2008 - 22:00

Orbital circles Chinese deals

14/05/2008 - 22:00

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AUTOMOTIVE manufacturers are facing unprecedented challenges with escalating costs, changing environmental regulations, and warnings about peak oil across the globe.

Orbital circles Chinese deals

AUTOMOTIVE manufacturers are facing unprecedented challenges with escalating costs, changing environmental regulations, and warnings about peak oil across the globe.

Among those keenly watching developments in the sector is Balcattabased Orbital Corporation Ltd.

Orbital is one of Western Australia's few automotive sector players, having been a stock market darling in the 1980s when its founder, Ralph Sarich, excited investors with his revolutionary engine concept.

While the engine never made it to commercial production, some of the spin-off developments have kept Orbital at the forefront of engine technology during the past two decades.

It currently invests about $1 million every year on research and development in an effort to stay ahead of the ever-changing industry, and is claiming great success with new components that help engines run on a variety of fuels.

Company sales and marketing director Brian Fitzgerald said automotive manufacturers were being forced to design engines that used alternative fuels as global petroleum production reached its maximum.

Together with more stringent environmental regulations and a price-sensitive market, finding the balance when developing costeffective, affordable engines that met carbon emission limits was an intricate process.

Orbital has been on the R&D offensive and last month displayed its CA18 FlexDI concept engine at the world-renowned Auto China 2008 (the Beijing International Motor Show).

The FlexDI combustion system was launched by Orbital in October 2007 with the aim for 'one engine - any fuel'.

The concept engine - which is fitted with FlexDI combustion and direct injection systems - was commissioned by China's fourth largest automotive group, Chanang Auto, with design and assembly by Orbital.

Under the direction of CEO Rodney Alexander and CFO Keith Halliwell, Orbital received important recognition in the key Chinese market during the auto show.

"It was really well received by a very important market," Mr Fitzgerald told WA Business News.

"China's the only place in the world that has legislated fuel economy for vehicles by vehicle weight.

We got a great response at the motor show, which is important with the market the way it is.

"In the next decade we're going to see a lot of manufacturers looking to develop technology to cater for alternative fuel sources as there won't be enough oil around." The concept engine incorporates a high-technology twin turbocharger design to enable high levels of performance while maintaining a desirable flat torque curve across a wide speed range.

FlexDI enables the engine to run on different fuel sources or a mixture of various sources from heavy fuels to hydrogen.

"So the vehicle can run on multiple sources like gas, CNG, LNG, ethanol, but the direct injection means it can also run on gas together with ethanol, where you might have 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent gas," Mr Fitzgerald said.

He said displaying FlexDI at Auto China was important for the company because of that country's strong position in the global automotive market.

Chinese automotive manufacturers now account for about 15 per cent of global production and are seeking to implement cost-effective technology solutions for emission and fuel consumption control, both for export and for the rapidly growing Chinese domestic market.

Orbital's direct injection technology has been in production on nonautomotive gasoline engines since 1996 and has been implemented on more than 500,000 engines worldwide.

Mr Fitzgerald said Changan's technology investigations would continue with the auto giant in talks with Orbital about launching further joint engineering activities in 2008-09.

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