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Opel knew of ‘possible’ Commodore plan years ago

Euro zone: A notchback sedan body style was considered for Holden’s fully imported Commodore, according to Opel’s design chief.

Holden’s needs for Insignia-cum-Commodore factored into development from outset


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10 Mar 2017


GENERAL Motors’ European division Opel was informed as early as 2012 that there was a possibility Holden’s Commodore could be replaced by an international product – more than a year before the company announced it was pulling out of Australian manufacturing.

Holden revealed its intentions to close its local manufacturing operations on December 11, 2013, claiming the decision was made “within hours” of then chairman and managing director Mike Devereux appearing before a Productivity Commission hearing the previous day.

However, at the Geneva motor show this week, during a walk-around of the European-developed new-generation Commodore – which is due for release early next year and is based on the front- and all-wheel-drive Opel/Vauxhall Insignia liftback and wagon – Opel vice-president of design Mark Adams said the company knew the iconic Aussie rear-wheel-drive model’s future was under a cloud well before the decision was announced.

“We knew it was a possibility,” Mr Adams said.

“Until you sign off a program, which is later, you never know what things are going to be fixed and committed to a program. We have a point in a program, which when you sign in blood and the money is committed, then that’s real.

“And before that you integrate and make sure you keep your options, if necessary, opened enabling a great vehicle. I can’t tell you when we made final call on Holden but we had to plan that in from the beginning.”

One consolation for Holden was the fact that this pre-planning meant the Australian subsidiary could have significant input into the fully imported new model from early in the car’s development, in a bid to ensure it did not lose the sporting attributes for which the Adelaide-built version is known.

As reported, the new Insignia/Commodore will be sourced from Opel in Germany, which has just been bought by the French PSA Group, owner of Peugeot, Citroen and the premium DS spin-off.

Mr Adams said Holden was involved in the development of the new Insignia “all the way from the beginning” to ensure it had the right elements to satisfy Australian buyers.

“When we were defining the car right at the beginning,” he said.

“When you are doing a vehicle like this and trying to understand a market and customers, having inputs right at beginning is critical because you have got to look at … what are the key attributes and then work that balance accordingly.”

Mr Adams said Holden requested certain elements and attributes during the development phase, but some things were not possible.

“There was no way we could deliver a rear-wheel-drive car, so that was out of the question,” he said.

“But a vehicle that had a great interior package, great value – because at end of the day, we keep talking premium about this car, but that is more about the visuals and the aura, not about the price point so we needed to create a great-value car, which the Commodore clearly needs to be, a great value proposition.

“So we needed to find that balance all the way through. We needed to make sure the quality took a step on. We wanted to really get that high-value feel integrated into the design. And certainly having the sporty characteristic of the Commodore as much as we could, convey … with the way we shifted the proportions.

“Doing things like moving front wheels was just to shift the proportional balance of the car to create that aura. Other than a bit of wheelbase increase improves ride, it didn’t really have a benefit from an interior space perspective,” he added.

While there was some discussion about whether the Insignia, and in turn the Commodore, would be a sedan/notchback or a liftback – as well as a wagon – Mr Adams said the popularity of the liftback in Europe compared with the slower-selling sedan sealed the deal.

“If you get a notchback look, and I would challenge anyone to say can they tell the difference in today’s Insignia between notchback and hatchback,” he said.

“They can’t because the style is actually the same.

“If you can have the look but, by the way, you get all this extra functionality, you can do things with your seats, when you open up the tailgate you have so much more space, it’s a win win.

“From Holden’s perspective if you think where have we been in past, you’d say it has to be a notchback. Where is the market going, where are customers going? Everyone is looking for more flexibility.

“As long as it offers the same look and the same essence of what they like about a notchback, if you can offer functionality that is a good thing and we felt that was a good balance.”

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