Holden will build a next-generation small car in Australia as part of its newly announced co-investment with federal and state governments, but the future of the Commodore as a large, rear-wheel drive vehicle looks ominous.
The local car maker revealed today that it would build two all-new vehicles in the second half of the decade as part of a $1 billion-plus, 10-year commitment to local manufacturing that would see the company receive a $275 million contribution from Australian taxpayers.
The company says the two models will be based on global architectures within the empire of parent company General Motors, but is not confirming officially whether they will be small and large cars like the current Cruze and Commodore assembled in Adelaide.
Holden boss Mike Devereux hinted strongly in an interview with Australian journalists today that one of the models will be a small car, with a next-generation version of the Cruze that is a global car and currently built in Australia highly likely.
A new-generation Holden Commodore, dubbed VF, will go on sale in 2013 using the existing ‘Zeta’ platform developed by Holden, but the new VF model could have a relatively short lifespan as the manufacturer looks to react to dwindling sales of large cars.
Devereux said Holden’s investment in the VF Commodore was proof it still believed in large cars but was evasive when asked if it was committed to large cars beyond that model’s lifecycle.
“I think there is a future for cars bigger than Cruzes and Corollas, and I think there will be some innovations both in size and contenting in those vehicles that will make them very viable and very relevant for Australians,” Devereux said.
“Our goal is to stem that decline [in large car sales], and then frankly figuring out what that vehicle larger than a Cruze, Corolla or Mazda3 looks like for Australia is part of the magic of the auto industry.”
Devereux, however, wouldn’t be drawn on whether he thought there was a future for cars bigger than a Malibu, the new General Motors medium car that goes on sale in Australia in late 2012.
“I’m not going to go down that path [saying I believe in cars bigger than medium cars] because I think we have a pretty smart plan and it’s going to take three, four or five years to execute that plan and then maybe in 2015 or early 2016 I might be able to answer that question [about the future of large cars].”
The move to locally built vehicles based on global platforms means the prospect of a future Commodore, presuming the emotive nameplate is retained, being shared with a front-wheel-drive General Motors medium car can’t be ruled out.
The current Commodore, as is expected with the forthcoming models, was a $1 billion investment on its own but is not a true global car, with its underpinnings used for limited models such as the Chevrolet Camaro muscle car (above) that was designed and developed by Holden.
A completely different body style could also be under consideration. Sales of SUVs and crossover-style vehicles – such as the Nissan Dualis – continue to boom with no signs of waning.
That compares to plummeting sales of large cars, which have seen the Ford Falcon record its lowest sales in the nameplate’s history in 2011 and the Commodore last year losing its ‘Best-selling car in Australia’ status to the Mazda3 small car.
Holden says the likelihood of the Australian dollar maintaining parity for some time with the US ‘greenback’ means building a case for exports for the new models is made harder.
Devereux admits it anticipated selling more units of the Commodore-based Chevrolet Caprice police car in the United States.
One possible saviour for a rear-wheel-drive large car, however, could be speculation that Chevrolet is planning a new NASCAR racer that would be based on the Caprice.
Chevrolet started rumours after saying earlier this month that its 2013 NASCAR challenger would “be based on a new nameplate to the brand’s line-up”, ruling out the existing race car based on the Chevy Impala or other current models such as the Malibu or Cruze.
More compact, rear-wheel-drive platforms also exist in the GM world, such as the one used for Cadillac's BMW 3-Series-rivalling ATS. (Holden teased with the idea of a compact, rear-wheel-drive car with the Torana TT36 concept back in 2004 - pictured below.)
Devereux says today’s announcement provides “a very strong, bright future for a 10-year guarantee for Adelaide”, adding that Holden will also continue to play a crucial role in GM’s global design and product development.
“Our engineering and design teams will continue to work on things that will be built in this country, though perhaps more importantly we will connect our design and engineering teams far more directly into doing work - as they have in the past but with increasing role - in GM’s international operations, designing and engineering things that may or may not be built in this country.
“So it’s a pretty good future and that has been part of this negotiation both with the government, plural, and internally with GM as a global entity. It has been a very complex negotiation and I think we have a very strong outcome for the country and from an alliance standpoint, but certainly for all of Holden’s employees.”
Holden’s engine plant in Port Melbourne is not part of its agreement with the Australian federal or state governments and its future remains the subject of discussion.