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Exclusive: Holden link to Russia’s born-again Niva

Tough guy: The fact that this Chevrolet Niva show car looks dressed to tackle the Simpson Desert might not be coincidental, as it was designed by a team headed by Holden designer Ondrej Koromhaz.

‘Brutal’ Chevrolet Niva 4x4 show car built by Holden ahead of Moscow show reveal

Chevrolet logo26 Aug 2014

By RON HAMMERTON

A RUGGED compact SUV designed to cope with the snowy steppes of Russia and other tough environments will be unveiled at the Moscow motor show this week, thanks to some Aussie knowhow.

The Chevrolet Niva – a direct successor for the solid Russian Lada four-wheel-drive wagon of the same name once sold around the world, including Australia – was designed in China by a team led by Holden designer Ondrej Koromhaz, the man best known for penning the current Holden Barina and its Chevrolet twins, the Aveo and Sonic.

With styling described by a GM executive in Russia as “brutal”, the Niva show car was built by the fabrication team at Holden’s Melbourne design centre – one of only two in the General Motors world capable of making such cars from scratch.

The vehicle was completed a few weeks ago and then shipped to Russia for the unveiling at the Moscow International Automobile Salon opening today, August 27.

Although it is a concept at this stage, the four-cylinder, 4WD SUV will go into production in Russia in 2016 as the all-new Niva in a joint venture between General Motors and Russia’s biggest motor company, AvtoVAZ – the company that started the Niva story with the first generation of the no-frills 4x4 in 1977.

137 center imageLeft: Holden designer Ondrej Koromhaz.As the latest model has been styled in China at General Motors International Operations’ (GMIO) design studio in Shanghai, it seems logical that the Niva will also go into production there as a Chevrolet, probably in a joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) – China’s biggest homegrown motor company.

It is unclear if Australia will be among the recipients for the final production version. Holden already sells the Trax city SUV, Captiva compact SUV and Colorado 7 large 4WD wagon.

GM Holden national manager of product communications Kate Lonsdale confirmed to GoAuto that the one-off Niva show car had been crafted at GM’s Australian design centre, and that Ondrej Koromhaz had been in charge of the design process in China.

In Russia, the Niva is expected to roll out of AvtoVAZ’s giant Togliatti factory – one of the biggest in the world with a capacity of a million units a year – to replace the current Chevrolet Niva that was launched in 1998.

That model is powered by an AvtoVAZ 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine and is still sold throughout the former Soviet Union – now called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

However, GM-AvtoVAZ reportedly is examining fresh export prospects for the new-generation vehicle.

Although Chevrolet is yet to announce powertrain details for the new Niva, it is expected to get a current GM Ecotec four-cylinder engine.

Like all Nivas since its inception, the latest model will be built on a car-style monocoque platform, and will get an AWD system to cope with the heavy snow, ice and deserts of its home market and elsewhere.

In its pre-show statement released in Moscow, GM-AvtoVAZ said the concept car would provide a guide to the design of the production Niva which it promises will have “exceptional all-terrain potential”.

The show car has 16-inch wheels with chunky 235/70 off-road tyres, a large front bash plate to protect the powertrain and front suspension, breathing snorkel for deep-water wading and a roof rack topped by a spare wheel and driving lights.

An image of the back of the car shows a side-opening rear door – complete with door-mounted spare wheel – and tail-lights with protective bars.

GM-AvtoVAZ CEO Jeffrey Glover said the new Niva’s style would be “much closer to the line of Chevrolet” than the current model.

“At the same time, a more brutal appearance and characteristics of the car suggest it will continue to be a real Niva,” he said.

The original Lada Niva was sold in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s, building a cult following as a tough all-rounder with surprising off-road ability.

In the late 1980s, Australian racing legend Peter Brock got involved with Lada after his split with Holden in 1987, turning his Port Melbourne factory over to rectification of the shoddy Lada Samara to bring them up to scratch before they entered the showroom.

However, sales efforts struggled in all western markets, and Lada withdrew from Australia and elsewhere in the mid-1990s.

It is somewhat ironic that Holden has had a hand in the new-generation Niva, via designer Ondrej Koromhaz and the Port Melbourne fabrication team.

Czech-born and educated designer Mr Koromhaz moved to Australia and joined Holden in the late 1990s, playing a key role in the highly regarded Torana TT36 show car and VE Commodore before being assigned to GM’s South Korean design studio to head up the Barina/Aveo/Sonic global project.

Mr Koromhaz was responsible for the Barina’s design “theme” – the first sketch of the car that is then translated into a fully fledged design.

He completed that project in 2005-2007. When the Barina hit the market in mid 2011, Mr Koromhaz had already been reassigned to the Shanghai GM studio where, as we now know, he has been working on Niva.

Looking at the teaser images of the Niva, it seems Mr Koromhaz might have dipped into his Australian background for design inspiration, as the show car is dressed like a true Aussie off-road enthusiast’s bush basher.

The Niva is the second compact SUV show car in which Holden has been involved over the past 12 months. The Chevrolet Adra – shown at the New Delhi motor show in February this year – was the product of a joint effort by designers at GM India and Holden, with the final show car also being fabricated in Melbourne.

The Adra is a light SUV, based on GM’s Gamma II small car platform that underpins the Barina, Barina Spark, Trax and Opel Mokka.

The Niva looks to be one-size bigger, possibly built on GM’s Delta II architecture from cars such as the Cruze and Astra, although it could turn out to be related to the Adra as GM looks to save costs by using essentially the same vehicle for the Russian, Chinese and Indian markets.

AvtoVAZ – founded by the Soviet communist government in 1966 to build cars for the middle class in Russia and its satellites – stands for Avtomobilniy Volzhsky Avtomobilny Zavod (Automobile Volga Automobile Plant), due to its location on the Volga River.

AvtoVAZ’s original Lada vehicles we based on the Fiat 124, although the Lada Niva was fundamentally an AvtoVAZ effort.

These days, the company is part-owned by the Renault-Nissan Alliance, which builds some of its products for the eastern bloc at the Togliatti plant.

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