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2013 incoming: Holden VF heads list of fresh metal

Light fantastic: Holden’s new Commodore VF has been slimmed down for better fuel economy and sharper performance.

Holden’s new local hero is set to lead big year of new-model launches in hectic 2013

Holden logo22 Jan 2013

AUSTRALIA’S appetite for new cars hit record highs in 2012, and car-makers are betting the demand will only get stronger in 2013.

At least 150 new or significantly upgraded new models will be lobbed into this arena by the 60-odd motor companies scrapping for a bigger slice of the 1.1 million-vehicle sales action in one of the world’s most hotly contested car markets.

With Europe, North America and Japan all still struggling to varying degrees after the global financial crisis, many car companies have decided Australia is where it is at, and are pouring resources and products into the cauldron.

Against this avalanche of imports riding into the country on a high Aussie dollar, local car-makers such as Holden have their work cut out.

However, General Motors’ Australian subsidiary is preparing to fight back with its significantly reworked VF Commodore that will boast aluminium panels, hi-tech electronics and a raft of other tweaks to make it the most fuel-efficient, safest and advanced Commodore in Holden history.

 center imageFrom top: Toyota RAV4 Nissan Pulsar Volkswagen Golf Subaru Forester Mercedes-Benz A-Class Honda Accord Ford Kuga.

The redesigned 2013 Commodore, which is expected to be revealed in February ahead of its showroom launch about June, is likely to be the last of the line, with Holden already preparing for life after local large cars from about 2017 – almost 70 years after the first Holden rolled off the production line.

The VF is expected to go down fighting, even spinning off an American export version – the Chevrolet SS Performance – that will spearhead GM’s NASCAR racing assault in the US and add valuable production line throughput at Holden’s Elizabeth factory in South Australia.

Holden will hope the new Commodore reverses the 25 per cent sales slide in 2012 of its once-bestselling local model, while extending its share of the large-car segment beyond its considerable 53 per cent.

Holden will also debut two more of 2013’s most significant new models – the mid-sized Malibu and Trax compact SUV – that will follow hard on the heels of the Commodore launch, in the second half of the year.

These Korean imports will fill notable gaps in the Holden armoury, helping the company to take the fight up to the likes of the Toyota Camry and Subaru XV respectively.

The 2.5-litre Malibu – which will get a new Holden-designed face to set it apart from the Chevrolet version that is not selling so well in North America – is expected to hit the market in about August, ahead of the rival new-generation Ford Mondeo.

Another company shaping up for a big year of model launches is Nissan, which will debut its re-born Pulsar, new Altima Camry-fighter and a trio of SUVs – the small Juke fun machine, all-new Pathfinder and high-end V8-powered Patrol.

These vehicles will be critical to Nissan’s ambitions of becoming Australia’s number-one full-line vehicle importer.

After a massive new-model launch program over the past 18 months, market leader Toyota is looking for a year of consolidation.

Its big-ticket item in the first quarter will be the all-new RAV4 that arrives in February to shake up the fast-growing compact-SUV market.

It will not have it all its own way, though, with a new Subaru Forester arriving this week, the latest Ford Kuga hitting the market later in the year and new variants of the top-selling Mazda CX-5 (2.5 litre petrol) and Honda CR-V (diesel), while Jeep will update the Patriot and Compass twins in the second half and Peugeot’s 2008 will launch in November.

Jeep will also launch the facelifted Grand Cherokee, complete with a smooth new eight-speed automatic transmission, in September.

In the mass-selling small-car segment, the new Nissan Pulsar that will be launched in sedan form (next week) and five-door hatchback (second quarter) to replace the unloved Tiida, will run into new arrivals including the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf (second quarter), a more upmarket new Kia Cerato (April) and Skoda Rapid (mid-year).

Higher up the small-car food chain, the market will fire up with the arrival of some of the most anticipated European hatchbacks in years, including the all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class (March), Audi A3 (May), Volvo V40 (February) and fire-breathing Opel GTC OPC (February).

In the smaller light-car class, hot hatches will abound in 2013, including the Ford Fiesta ST (third quarter), Opel Corsa OPC (March), Mini Paceman JCW (July), Peugeot 208 GTI (July) and Renault Clio RS (second half).

Among the more prosaic light cars scheduled to arrive during the year are the Mitsubishi Mirage (this week), Ford Fiesta 1.0-litre EcoBoost (third quarter), standard Renault Clio (August), Fiat Panda (fourth quarter) and – possibly the most important of all – a new Mazda2 late in the year.

Hybrid vehicles on the launch pad include plug-in hybrid variants of Mitsubishi’s new Outlander and Toyota’s Prius, as well as the Honda Jazz Hybrid.

Honda’s biggest new-model launch of 2013 will be the new Thai-built Accord that is already on sale in left-hand-drive guise in the United States, where it is getting rave reviews.

The onslaught of new metal into the luxury market shows no sign of slowing this year, with more than 20 launches from Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus alone.

In addition to the A3, Audi will bring fast-yet-frugal bi-turbo diesel versions of the A6 and A7 this month, followed by the rapid V8-powered RS4 Avant wagon in February, a facelifted R8 supercar in April, the SQ5 super-SUV in May, a drop-top version of the snarling RS5 in July and the bonkers twin-turbo V8 RS6 Avant wagon in October.

BMW will kick off proceedings with the 3 Series Touring wagon next month, followed by the petrol-electric ActiveHybrid7 limousine in the first quarter, a mild facelift for the Z4 roadster mid-year and a high-riding GT version of the 3 Series around the same time, after which the hot-shoe M6 Gran Coupe and facelifted 5 Series will arrive in the third quarter and a new X5 SUV might just sneak in by the end of the year.

All eyes will be on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class in March, but Stuttgart will also churn out a new GL seven-seat SUV in May followed by the A45 AMG hot hatch, swoopy CLA compact sedan, facelifted E-Class and all-new S-Class limo in the second half.

Japanese contender Lexus will launch a heavily revised LS limousine in February and the vital IS sedan in the third quarter, while new kid on the block Infiniti might sneak its Q50 3 Series-fighter into this year.

Then there is the all-new Range Rover (February), Porsche Cayman (April), Ferrari F12 Berlinetta (mid-year), updated Porsche Panamera (mid-year), Lamborghini Aventador Roadster (third quarter), Rolls-Royce Wraith coupe (fourth quarter) and Bentley’s GT Speed convertible.

All-new electric cars will be thin on the ground in the 2013, reflecting the slow take-up of these plug-in alternatives.

However, Nissan’s market-leading Leaf is expected to get a facelift delivering greater range and higher performance, mainly through weight-reduction measures.

And after promising much and delivering little, Chinese car manufacturers will also be low-key, with the British-designed but Chinese-built LDV V80 van the only certainty, its launch scheduled for later this week.

Others might include Great Wall’s first passenger car in this market, the VX10, and ZX Auto’s grandly named ute, the GrandTiger – a direct competitor for the Great Wall ute range.

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