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Colorado stays firm in Holden’s darkest hour

Holden Colorado now comfortably brand’s best-seller with update coming next year

9 Dec 2019

By ROBBIE WALLIS in THAILAND

WHILE 2019 has been a year of bad news for Holden, one shining light – the Colorado pick-up – has remained firm on the sales charts, and is now clearly the best-selling model for the struggling lion brand.

 

As has been widely publicised, Holden’s sales downturn since its exit from local manufacturing has been stark, to the point where it finished 12th for monthly sales in November with 2668 units sold, behind even luxury brand Mercedes-Benz with 3407 units.

 

A number of Holden’s models have struggled in 2019, including the Astra hatch (4047 units, -54.1 per cent), Commodore large car (5417, -37.4 per cent) and Trax small SUV (4252, -18.2 per cent).

 

Sales of the Colorado 4x4 have dipped 2.1 per cent year-to-date, but with 14,398 sales, it is by far and away the brand’s best seller and is fourth in the highly competitive 4x4 pick-up segment behind the Ford Ranger (33,905), Toyota HiLux (33,061) and Mitsubishi Triton (20,535), and ahead of the Isuzu D-Max (10,382), Nissan Navara (9803) and Mazda BT-50 (7249).

 

The mechanically related Trailblazer seven-seat large SUV has also performed strongly in 2019, with sales increasing 7.0 per cent to 2596 units.

 

Despite the small year-on-year dip, the Colorado has retained its 9.3 per cent segment share, with the 4x4 pick-up market declining 2.9 per cent in 2019.

 

Combined with the 4x2 Colorado, which has not fared as well with a 16.9 per cent sales slide to 1708 units, the overall Colorado range has achieved 16,106 sales, which is just short of three times the volume of Holden’s next best seller, the Commodore.

 

Speaking to GoAuto last week at a drive event in Thailand, Holden general manager of communications Daniel Cotterill said the reason for the Colorado’s success was the result of its competitive offerings, as well as the standalone quality.

 

“We put it down to the quality of the product, and the offers that have been around it – you’ve seen new model year, you’ve seen some pretty sharp pricing, there’s a seven-year free scheduled servicing offer currently on offer until December 31,” he said.

 

“I think that and support of up to 200 Holden dealers around the country play a pretty large factor in sustaining that performance.

 

“It’s managed to hold its own month-by-month and even grow some of the time in a market that’s really tough, as everyone knows. To do that, in what I would suggest is one of the most competitive segments, is pretty good.”

 

Mr Cotterill added that Holden would like the Colorado crack the top three in the segment, but that was not a focus or a target for the brand.

 

“We think it deserves to be top three, but it’s an enormously competitive segment, so getting it there is a challenge,” he said.

 

“(Position ambitions) is not how we work, but we are definitely focused on improving its sales.”

 

According to Holden, another aspect of the Colorado that has helped it sell is its driving characteristics and usability, with its limited-slip differential (LSD) on the rear axle aiding both on and off-road use, whereas other brands opt for a fully locking diff for their pick-ups.

 

“What we really try to achieve with Colorado is more capability, more of the time,” said Mr Cotterill.

 

“So the whole package from driving dynamics, the way it handles both on-road and off, its comfort, the combination of limited-slip diff with very well calibrated traction control gives you more capability in situations where people actually use their Colorados rather than where they think they use them.”

 

The sales performance of the Colorado is impressive considering its age, with the current-generation launched in mid 2012.

 

The latest in a number of updates was applied early this year, with Colorado getting additional standard equipment and the removal of the manual transmission on a number of variants.

 

Mr Cotterill confirmed there is still life left in the Colorado yet, with Holden set to announce details of another Colorado update in the new year.

 

It remains unknown what a next-generation Colorado will look like and whether it will be co-developed with another company, as the current Colorado shares a chassis with the Isuzu D-Max.

 

The next-generation D-Max is confirmed to be sharing its underpinnings with Mazda and its BT-50, while Mitsubishi and Nissan will co-develop its next-gen ute, as will Ford and Volkswagen.

 

Whatever the direction Holden and parent company General Motors decide to take with the next-generation Colorado, the current version will likely be in production for around a decade before it is replaced.

 

When asked if Holden plans to join the likes of Ford and Nissan by offering a hardcore, top-spec model such as the Ranger Raptor or Navara N-Trek Warrior, Mr Cotterill indicated the accessory-enhanced Z71 Xtreme released in September last year would likely remain the flagship variant for the range.

 

Like many other medium pick-ups such as the HiLux, Ranger, Triton and D-Max, the Colorado is built in Thailand, with General Motors set to produce around 85,000 Colorados and 120,000 engines for distribution across 16 countries through Asia/Pacific, the Middle East and Uzbekistan.

 

With that in mind, GoAuto got the chance to sample the Colorado and its Thai-spec Chevrolet Colorado sibling through the countryside of the south-east Asian country to see how it performs in a range of different conditions.

 

Travelling through the hilly north of the country, the Colorado remained surprisingly poised in twisting mountain passes – terrain that usually makes for uncomfortable travel in dual-cab pick-ups.

 

There is no hiding the fact that it is a heavy, high-riding pick-up, but the combination of its steering, suspension calibration and LSD help it remain stable around corners, with tyre squeal only coming into the equation when the car was pushed hard.

 

 

Ride comfort is good for a ute, which are stiffly sprung to handle a payload in the rear. Thailand’s roads are a mix of quality highway tarmac and pockmarked rural streets, and the Colorado remains compliant on both without too many rattles coming through the cabin.

 

Our drive also took us up a steep dirt track to a scenic lookout in the Khao Kho district, with sharp gradients that required low-range four-wheel drive to be engaged.

 

Despite being equipped with road tyres and running full pressures, the Colorado made short work of the challenging obstacles with barely a hint of wheel slip detected the whole journey up.

 

The absence of a fully locking rear differential may be a problem in the most extreme of off-roading scenarios, but for most pick-up buyers, the LSD is appropriate for navigating most challenges.

 

The only aspect of the Colorado that makes it truly feel like a commercial vehicle is its brake feel, which is wooden and lacking feedback. If Holden can give the brakes a more natural and linear feel, it would make the Colorado among the most driveable offerings in the pick-up segment.

 

Powering all variants is a 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder Duramax engine, which when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission (we didn’t drive the six-speed manual) puts out 147kW at 3600rpm and 500Nm at 2000rpm, making it one of the more powerful four-cylinder engines in the segment.

 

Performance from the Duramax engine is ample, with smooth and fairly linear power delivery, while the 500Nm on offer ensures the Colorado can smoothly haul up any hill and reach highway speeds in no time.

 

Some noise intrusion is present from the diesel mill, however this is to be expected from pick-up which often have gruff and noisy engine notes.

 

On our drive we recorded a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.6 litres per 100km, which is bang on the official combined-cycle figure.

 

One area of the Colorado that could use improvement is its interior, with cheap black plastic switchgear, hard cabin plastics, a steering wheel that struggles to sit comfortably in the hands and a basic infotainment system.

 

Yes, we know pick-ups often aren’t the last word in interior refinement, but the Colorado in particular has some improving to do.

 

During our drive we also got to sample the Thai-market Chevrolet Colorado, which carries over many of the features of the Holden version with some key differences.

 

The largest difference is the Chevy’s engine, which swaps out the 2.8-litre unit for a smaller 2.5-litre mill that develops 132kW at 3600rpm and 440Nm at 2000rpm, also teamed to a six-speed auto.

 

While the difference in power is noticeable when motoring up hills, for the most part the smaller engine has a similar driving character to the larger Aussie-spec version.

 

We recorded a combined fuel consumption of 8.5L/100km, which seems representative of its slightly smaller engine size.

 

If it weren’t for the fact that the 2.5-litre is only Euro4 compliant, it could make for a good entry-level engine in Australia for 4x2 grades or even cheaper 4x4 versions that could compete with the value-focused Mitsubishi Triton.

 

The other noticeable difference with the Chevy is the ride quality, with the Thai version featuring noticeably stiffer springs at the rear.

 

When asking yourself why the Chevy is sprung differently to its Aussie counterpart, it only takes a quick glance through any Thai village to see pick-ups loaded two metres high with hay bales or housing up to six occupants in the rear to understand that utes are used a little differently in Thailand.

 

The life of Australian utes is a walk in the park compared with Thai pick-ups.

 

The importance of the Colorado can’t be understated for Holden. It sells nearly three times more units than its next-best seller, and now forms the backbone of the company in its toughest financial period since the company was launched in 1948.

 

Does it have the makings of a brand saviour? That remains to be seen, but with Australian buyers’ appetite for pick-ups, the Colorado is Holden’s best bet.


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