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Exclusive: Holden working on GM hot hatches

Hatch opened: This Opel Corsa OPC test mule is part of a Holden Powertrain calibration program for the new fifth-generation Corsa sports flagship on behalf of GM.

Next Opel Corsa OPC and Chevrolet Aveo RS getting Holden Powertrain treatment

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Opel logo15 Jul 2014

By RON HAMMERTON

HOLDEN Powertrain is working on two next-generation hot hatchbacks, the Opel Corsa OPC and Chevrolet Aveo RS, on behalf of its General Motors global parent.

The Australian subsidiary of GM, which is scheduled to lose much of its engineering force in the lead up to the closure of its Australian factories in 2017, confirmed to GoAuto that it is nevertheless doing powertrain calibration for both of the upcoming turbocharged compact hatches, which share GM’s Gamma light-car platform and other components.

Said Holden senior manager for product communications Kate Lonsdale: “Holden Powertrain is part of a global team responsible for the calibration of a number of global engines sold in other parts of the world. “As such we have test vehicles in Australia, including the Corsa OPC and Aveo RS, to conduct engineering development work.”

Other models spotted under test at Holden include Opel’s Astra small car, Insignia mid-sizer and Mokka compact SUV.

GoAuto has snapped pictures of engineering ‘mules’ of the Corsa OPC and Aveo RS hatchbacks going through their paces separately in Victoria.

Outwardly, the test cars are based on current models, but under the skin new-generation engines and transmissions are at work as GM prepares to carry the fight up to the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, Volkswagen Polo GTI, Renault Clio RS200 and Peugeot 208 GTi.

Opel and its British sister company Vauxhall released images and details of the new fifth-generation Corsa range in its bread-and-butter guises last week ahead of Corsa’s public debut at this year’s Paris motor show in October (see separate story).

But so far, the most powerful OPC version – called Vauxhall Corsa VXR in Britain – has been kept under wraps.

Holden has declined to say if the Corsa will be sold in Australia under its lion badges again, advising that it is concentrating on preparations to launch the previously announced, Opel-sourced Astra GTC and VXR three-door hatches, mid-sized Insignia VXR sports sedan and Cascada convertible as Holden models from next year.

But the presence of Corsa test vehicles here and the reluctance of Holden to rule out the model for Australia could indicate that the car is destined to head Down Under at some point, either as a light-hatch halo car or even as a replacement for the current South Korean-built Barina.

The Barina is currently based on the Aveo, which is also sold as the Chevrolet Sonic in North America, Brazil and South-East Asia.

The Aveo sedan is reportedly getting a facelift to be unveiled at the Chengdu motor show in China in September, although China Car News says the facelift will apply only to the Chinese version, leaving open the question of when other markets will get a new Aveo/Sonic/Barina and its revised RS powertrain.

Despite camouflage, the Corsa test car seen here has a modified front grille that appears to mimic the new Corsa front fascia design, with the numberplate and front badge mounts both lower than before.

The fat wheels and roof-mounted spoiler are giveaways that this is the high-powered OPC/VXR version that was sold briefly in its current generation in Australia in Opel’s its ill-fated, one-year adventure that ended in tears in August 2013 due to poor sales in a hugely competitive market.

When it was launched here, the Corsa OPC was billed as the most powerful car in its class, propelled by a 141kW 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.

Since then, French car-makers Renault and Peugeot have introduced hotter versions of their respective Clio and 208, both producing 147kW of power.

However, Opel launched a special OPC Nurburgring Edition in Europe, offering 155kW of power and 255Nm of torque. It can cover the 0-100km/h dash in 6.8 seconds.

In Australia, a handful of orphaned Corsas have continued to dribble on to the market since Opel Australia closed its doors and handed the keys to Holden last year, with 19 Corsas finding homes in Australia this year, including one last month.

The sourcing of the Barina replacement seems open to question, with rumours out of South Korea that GM is set to scale back its car export program from that country.

At the same time, GM has signed a deal with the Thai government to build a new plant in the “Detroit of Asia”.

As GoAuto has reported, GM CEO Mary Barra and president Dan Ammann travelled to Thailand earlier this year to lodge GM’s application for Thai government assistance to establish a new factory to build a global Chevrolet model in the “Detroit of Asia”.

Described by GM as a “strategic hub for global exports”, the new plant would be built under Thailand’s Eco Car 2 program that requires the manufacturer to build a model that emits less than 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

As Opel announced last week, the new Corsa will be equipped with a GM-first 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that might fit the bill. No fuel consumption or CO2 emissions figures have yet been released for the Corsa, which also will be sold in four-cylinder petrol and diesel guises in Europe.

Holden will only say that it is considering all its options for sourcing new models from throughout the GM world, and will not comment on prospects of sourcing cars from a specific plant.

If Holden does adopt the Corsa as the Barina, it will not be the first time.

Holden imported Corsa as the rebadged Barina between 1994 and 2005 before switching to the Korean-built model.

So far this year, Barina sales are down 31 per cent in a market segment down 11.9 per cent. Barina is ranked seventh in the segment, with fewer than half the sales of the top-selling Hyundai i20, which is also built in Korea.

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