GM Holden has opted for some “old-school muscle” in the last Australian-made Commodore model ahead of its ending local car making at the end of the 2017.
Holden on Sunday unveiled the new Commodore VFII, which has a 6.2-litre V8 engine and is billed as the fastest and most powerful iteration of the famous model.
The car maker released the new model at its Melbourne headquarters, where it has a public display of Commodores stretching back to the first model, the VB, which was released in 1978, a futuristic 2008 concept vehicle and exotic exports to the US.
The original Commodore cost about $6500 and came complete with velour seats and windscreen wipers on the headlights.
In the next 37 years, more than 3.1 million Commodores have been sold, it was Australia’s top-selling car for fifteen years straight and it won Bathurst a record 22 times.
The new chairman and managing director of GM Holden, Mark Bernhard, started with the company in Australia in 1986 and has since worked around the world for its US parent, General Motors, most recently in Shanghai where GM sold about 3 million cars last year.
Mr Bernhard, who has a financial rather than a engineering background, is the first Australian to lead Holden for 25 years. He faces the challenge of managing the end of local production, which will see the Melbourne engine plant close in late 2016 and the Adelaide assembly plant at the end of 2017.
“It’s very, very sad,” he said. “The whole transition is going to be very confronting.”
However, Mr Bernhard is upbeat about plans to revamp the Holden product with 24 new models being launched over the five years, which will be made in Europe, Asia and the US.
The Commodore is still among Australia’s top selling cars, unlike its great rival, the Ford Falcon, which is also nearing the end of the road.
Mr Benhard has pledged that the new lineup will include strong entries in the important small car and SUV market segments. The Commodore name plate will be retained beyond the end of local production, but Holden has yet to reveal where it will be made.
The new Commodore arrives as Hyundai of Korea edged into third spot among the best selling cars in Australia in August, behind Japan’s Toyota and Mazda, and edging out Holden into fourth place.
Mr Bernhard is taking about winning back market share, but has declined to be specific.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it. We don’t need that target on our back. Our goal is to be the best automotive company in Australia, but we’re playing the long game. We need to focus on the fundamentals of our business.”
Holden faces a major marketing challenge given that its brand is tied to its Australianess despite being US-owned. Women are said to be a major influence on 85 per cent of all new car purchases outside of fleet sales. Crucially, Holden has to sell more small cars and SUVs that women approve of.
The new V8 Commodore will not fuel the brand’s largely blokey image, with an engine straight out of a Chevrolet Corvette.
The suburbs will soon reverberate because the new V8 Commodore has a “bi-modal exhaust and sound enhancer” which can be turned to soft and LOUD.
The marketing blurb modestly notes that “you will hear the car before you see it” and it can accelerate from 0 to 100kmh in just under five seconds, which is potentially expensive – and dangerous – for anyone who chooses to push the car to its limits.
In some good news on the job front, Holden has announced that it will retain 100 people in its powertrain engineering department, which works on the combination of engines with transmissions/gearboxes.
Overall, Holden will keep a design, engineering and vehicle development workforce of more than 300 who will stay on after local production ends, working on local and global projects. The national Holden dealer networks will invest $200 million over the next five years.
Mr Bernhard argues that, while Holden’s business will continue to change, it will retain much of the talent that has shaped its success.
“It’s important that Holden and its vehicles retain their unique Australian DNA … with this local design and engineering workforce we can provide customers with cars developed specifically for Australian conditions.
“Those cars will come from Europe, America and Asia … but they will look, feel and drive like Holdens should.”
The Commodore gallery at Holden’s Port Melbourne headquarters is open to the public and includes the original VB Commodore, the first Holden racing team and Bathurst-winning 1990 VL Commodore and the first VE Commodore.
Other notable cars include the armoured VQ Caprice used by former PM Paul Keating in 1990 and a model badged as a Chevrolet Caprice that was used by the US police.