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Holden backing bright Spark

Caught on camera: GoAuto snapped the new Holden Spark being tested in Melbourne recently and the General has high hopes for the compact hatch, which launches in January.

Spark gets local tuning ahead of 2016 launch, but Cruze, Captiva still a while away


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12 Oct 2015

GM HOLDEN’s torrent of new-model releases will continue throughout 2016, with the micro-sized Spark set to launch in 2016.

Previewed at the New York motor show in April this year, the all-new Spark – the Barina moniker will be dropped – has been caught undisguised in Melbourne by GoAuto snappers.

The all-new car will benefit from localised tuning, a stronger, stiffer body and updated powertrains, including a 73kW 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine backed for the first time in a GM car by a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

“It's the first of the all-new architectures that we'll see in the Australian market,” Holden executive director of sales Peter Keley told GoAuto at the launch event for the VF Series II Commodore last week. “I’m not trying to get ahead of myself, but I reckon that the media will be very impressed by the vehicles, and then we expect our customers to be very impressed, as well.

“I think it will really set the tone and the confidence in future GM products.”

The Spark will be sourced, as before, from GM’s South Korean plant. Australia has played a hand in the design, with the Spark’s new look overseen by former Holden design director and current international design vice president Michal Simcoe, while much of the global vehicle’s chassis and powertrain tuning has been undertaken at the Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria and on Australian roads.

While the Spark will refresh its micro car offering, and the Opel-sourced Corsa rumoured to be drafted in to sit above the Spark, the future of Holden’s long-termers, the Captiva and Cruze are less certain.

Mr Keley told GoAuto that the delays to these two key vehicles can be traced back to the global financial crisis at the end of the last decade, where General Motors was bailed out by the United States government to the tune of $60 billion.

The resultant focus on servicing the debt with profit-making lines such as trucks, as well as a renewed focus on government-mandated low emissions vehicles for domestic consumption, meant that plans to refresh mid-size SUV and small-car platforms were put on hiatus.

“We certainly had a couple of things come together at the same time which has seen some of our products have a longer life cycle than was originally planned,” said Mr Keley. “Those days are rapidly coming to an end. GM's investment in future product has never been at a higher rate and now there'll be just a succession of product.

“Those days are behind us and there will be regular updates, regular replacement of products just as the regular market demands. We'll be right there with that.”

The Captiva 5 has recently surged in the sales charts, reversing a downward trend to record a huge 94 per cent turnaround in September to record 668 sales, against 344 in the same month last year. The nine-year-old SUV has moved 4437 units in 2015 to be 12.5 per cent ahead of its score in the same sales period in 2014.

“Captiva's been driven by a couple of things,” noted Mr Keley. “Certainly it's an aggressive marketplace. We've definitely been absolutely in there, going toe-to-toe. Secondly, it’s about people's confidence in the brand. Our brand health measures are increasing, so people, as they understand about what Holden will be in the future, are coming back to our showrooms and willing to invest in the Holden name again.”

GM’s Buick Envision, revealed in China in 2014, has been mooted as a potential source of a global mid-size SUV platform. Another global SUV – likely to be based on Opel’s future large high-riding wagon – is also on the cards for Australia.

The future of the Cruze is less clear-cut, with a mid-year retail push not resulting in increased sales. It is currently 16.5 per cent down year on year at 11,925 units, lying sixth in the small car category behind Volkswagen’s Golf at 17,138.

The impending five-door Astra, which is set to launch here later next year, could well take the Cruze’s place when Holden’s Adelaide plant is shuttered in late 2017.

Mr Keley reluctantly acknowledged that the Colorado pick-up is next in line for a refresh in 2016.

“They'll be upgrades to Colorado,” he acknowledged. “I won't be specific about the timing of that.”

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