Life Auto Holden’s deck knock in the form of a Commodore
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Holden’s deck knock in the form of a Commodore

Commodore v8
The Commodore was one of – if not – the last vestiges of the Australian racing car industry. Photo: Getty
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Now only the Holden name remains. And with the demise of Commodore the question will again be asked; for how long?

Having ended manufacturing in 2017 and now confirmed the Commodore name and model are finished, once mighty Holden looks more fragile than ever.

In the end, Commodore’s demise was not that much of a surprise.

What had once been the vibrant top-selling cornerstone of Australia’s largest car manufacturer had been reduced to a rebadged Opel imported from Germany that sold just a few thousand examples per year.

For many people this import was never really a Commodore anyway, something we explored at its launch back in early 2018.

Commodores were big and brawny V6s and V8s that powered their rear wheels, not a mid-size hatch that drove its front wheels.

 

Such mechanical detail matters not a jot to most drivers, but for Holden Commodore faithful – raised on decades of performance and Bathurst 1000 wins – it was everything.

It defined the car and explained why they deserted its successor.

They have simply joined the rest of the motoring population, which had for years been abandoning traditional passenger cars in droves in favour of high-riding SUV wagons and dual cab utes.

Holden is chasing that trend. Along with the Commodore, it has also announced it is ending the sale of the Astra small car by the end of the year.

Its line-up will instead comprise the Colorado ute and a family of SUVs drawn from various parts of parent General Motors’ empire.

It is a logical and sensible move. If your resources are limited – and Holden’s certainly are these days – then spend your money where the market is, not on shoring up a presence in a declining segment for no other reason than you’ve always been there.

The trouble is, apart from the Colorado, Holden’s line-up isn’t selling well despite a big advertising and marketing push in 2019.

The Trax is only the 10th most popular small SUV, the Equinox ninth in medium and the Acadia 11th and Trailblazer 12th in large SUV.

Such poor results help explain why Holden slipped out of the top 10 selling brands in a couple of months in 2019 and why its sales are 28.5 per cent down year-on-year.

The Trax was meant to be a saving SUV grace for Holden. But alas. Photo: Holden

Those sales aren’t just people missing the message that Holden offers SUVs.

They are getting another message. Holden’s offerings are not that good, consistently defeated in automotive comparison tests with models from Toyota, Hyundai, Mazda and the like.

Holden desperately needs an influx of impressive and affordable new vehicles and at the moment, it’s unclear where they are coming from.

These days, Holden is a right-hand drive sore thumb for GM, which has its primary focus on the biggest left-hand drive markets of North America and China.

GM even pulled out of Europe, selling off Opel to PSA (Peugeot-Citroen).

The German company sold its cars as Vauxhalls in the UK and that substantial right-hand drive market provided a decent supply of new metal for Holden.

The Commodore and the Astra were the last vestiges of that deal.

Of course, GM still has substantial manufacturing bases in North America, Korea and even China for Holden to tap into, but coming up with a business case for a few thousand right-hand drive vehicles is not easy.

Many times over the years Holden has lusted after big SUVs and pick-ups built by GM brands like Chevrolet and GMC in the USA only to be foiled by the hundreds of millions of dollars it would cost to switch the steering wheel to the other side.

Instead independent importers bring the likes of the Chevrolet 1500 in, convert them to right-hand drive and sell them at high prices. They can’t get enough.

It all leaves Holden and its new interim managing director Kristian Aquilina in an appallingly difficult position.

A brand with a rich heritage has slumped into a traumatic present and a deeply uncertain future. The demise of Commodore is far from his biggest issue.

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