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GM snuffs Holden's global RWD dream

Dream dead: GM's Bob Lutz confirmed the death of the RWD large-car program, due to fuel legislation.

General Motors confirms G8 and Camaro are the last Aussie RWD models for America

13 Jan 2009


DEVELOPMENT of future large rear-wheel drive vehicle programs beyond the current-generation Holden-devised Zeta architecture has halted at General Motors, according to global product development vice-chairman Bob Lutz.

Speaking to Australian media at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, Mr Lutz confirmed that increasingly punitive fuel-economy target legislation, combined with the severe economic crisis, had left the corporation with no option but to cease future RWD large-car development.

This means that GM may have to keep using the ageing Sigma RWD and all-wheel-drive architecture that has served on its upper-echelon vehicles such as the Cadillac CTS and STS sedans and the SRX luxury SUV.

The Sigma architecture debuted in 2002 beneath the first-generation CTS.

“The strategy we had a few years ago of basically deriving a whole sweeping global portfolio off the Australian Zeta architecture ... frankly, we have had to abandon that dream,” Mr Lutz said.

“This is because, whether you are in the United States or in China, fuel economy mandates are getting more and more severe, and we just could not base our strategy on doing relatively large and relatively heavy rear-wheel-drive cars.

“And I suspect the same thing is going to start to bite the traditional rear-wheel drive producers.”

13 center imageLeft: Bob Lutz unveils the VE Commodore-based Pontiac G8 at the Chicago show in 2007.

The Zeta’s death knell in the US follows GM’s announcement last week that the VE utility-derived Pontiac G8 ST program had been axed just months before the first vehicle was due to be made and shipped to North America.

Mr Lutz also confirmed that the Australian-developed Chevrolet Camaro – which is also built off the Zeta platform architecture – has suffered delays as GM tries to get back on its corporate feet. The convertible version will now arrive in 2011 while development of a right-hand drive model has also been set back by a few months – at the very least.

“Frankly, when we looked at investments that we could defer a little bit because they were non-essential or not critical to the short-term survival of the company, one of the things we pushed out a little bit was the Camaro convertible,” he said.

“It was going to initially be just one year after the coupe (on sale in the next few months in America), and now it is going to be two years after the coupe.

“And another thing we deferred was the right-hand-drive version. I’m confident it is going to happen, it’s just that it is going to happen a little later.” How long the VE Commodore-based Pontiac G8 – which is built at Holden’s Elizabeth plant in Adelaide – survives is tied in with Pontiac’s fate.

“It all depends on what we are going to do with the Pontiac brand,” Mr Lutz said. “It is one of the US brands that we have announced that is under ‘strategic review’.

“With the current financial reality of the company, we’ve got too many kids and too many mouths to feed, and three brands ... actually three-and-a-half brands are under strategic review: Saturn, Hummer, Saab and ‘kind of’ Pontiac.

“We’ve said that we are going to focus Pontiac down to one or two entries – and for the time being one of the two entries will be the G8, the other being the Pontiac Vibe, and of course the Solstice Roadster and Coupe – and that’s basically the Pontiac line-up.” Nevertheless, GM’s global design director (and former Holden design chief) Mike Simcoe told GoAuto in Detroit that the Pontiac G8 had become profitable in North America in recent months, despite selling around half as many as GM anticipated, due to the big drop in the value of the Australian dollar compared to the US currency.

And the HSV-based 6.2-litre Pontiac GXP will still be launched as scheduled in February.

Mr Lutz also acknowledged that there would be a next-generation Commodore produced in Australia using a development of the Zeta architecture that debuted as the VE series in July 2006.

Due out in about 2012 or 2013, it is believed that the next Commodore’s ‘top hat’ (body and interior) will change, as will parts of the drivetrain to accommodate alternative fuel powerplants, but the basic chassis will be carried over.

“It is our intent to continue the Australian rear-wheel-drive cars we will continue building them and doing a next generation and so forth and so on,” Mr Lutz said.

“And, to be honest, they continue to be my favourite cars. I think they are absolutely wonderful – but the regulatory environment is such that it would be imprudent to base a whole global platform strategy on them ... much to my personal chagrin, by the way.” Mr Lutz said that, providing GM pulled through the current economic crisis, he expected the auto giant might again be open to the development of a new RWD platform with an expert partner like Holden in Australia – in the long-term.

“What many of us would like to do (one day) is to do an all-new global rear-wheel drive architecture that would be considerably smaller, lighter and be capable of taking four-cylinder powertrains,” he said.

“That, I think, could be globally shared. It’s not even in the plan at this point it’s just what we tell ourselves in that there is going to have to be a next-generation Camaro, and there is going to have to be a next-generation Cadillac sedan, and so there is going to have to be a smaller and a way more efficient rear-wheel-drive architecture.

“But at this point it is just a gleam in our eye.” Meanwhile, Mr Lutz revealed that GM’s decision to green light the design, development and assembly of its next-generation ‘Delta’ small car in Elizabeth leaves Holden in a stronger position to weather the vagaries of consumer trends and economic downturns.

“Holden has basically committed to localising a compact car for Australia’s future because we see that is where the growth is,” he said.

Holden managing director and CEO Mark Reuss also said in Detroit this week that sealing the small-car deal for Australia was one of his top priorities when he began his stint in Australia one year ago, and that much of his time since has been spent implementing the program.

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