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Commodore may return to US - as a NASCAR

Stillborn: Pontiac's Commodore SS-based G8 sedan was last sold in the US in 2009.

Next Holden Commodore tipped for export as 2014 Chevy SS, for US roads and tracks

Holden logo15 Mar 2012

THE INTERNET is abuzz with speculation that Holden’s homegrown Commodore will soon make a triumphant return to North American showrooms - and to NASCAR ovals around the US.

Respected US auto websites and enthusiast blogs went into overdrive this week when Chevrolet announced it will replace its Impala NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racecar for the 2013 season with an all-new model and nameplate, a production version of which will also be revealed within 12 months.

“Chevrolet announced today that for the 2013 season, Team Chevy will be racing a vehicle based on a new nameplate to the brand’s line-up,” said General Motors on Tuesday (March 13).

“Taking advantage of the new NASCAR rules, which allow manufacturers to display more of their brand identity in their racecars, the new Chevrolet racecar will closely resemble the production version. Both cars will be unveiled in the coming year.” The announcement rules out Chevrolet going NASCAR racing alongside Toyota’s Camry, Ford’s Fusion and the Dodge Charger with a version of its mid-size Malibu, which has just gone on sale in the US before arriving here early next year, or a smaller sedan based on GM’s double World Touring Car Championship winner, the Cruze.

Released in 2005, Chevrolet’s outgoing Impala is based on a 20-year-old GM platform but claimed five manufacturers’ titles and 70 wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2007, when it replaced the large Monte Carlo coupe.

So, unless Chevrolet has a secret new model or it plans simply to rename the Impala’s replacement - which will be based on the same front-wheel drive Epsilon platform that underpins Cadillac’s new XTS large sedan and is due on sale in the US early next year – Holden’s homegrown Commodore appears to be in line for a renewed US export program and the basis of Chev’s next NASCAR.

“We are keeping the wraps on the new car for now and will continue to prepare for next season by testing camouflaged vehicles,” said Chevrolet Performance Vehicles and Motorsports vice-president Jim Campbell.

“We know that Chevrolet fans are eager to see the new racecar and we hope that the prospect of being able to own one just like it will make the wait a little more bearable.

“The Impala has been a critical part of Chevrolet’s success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and we are confident the new racecar will allow us to remain the most successful name in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history,” said Mr Campbell.

Exports of Holden’s last Commodore-based US model, the Pontiac G8, ended when GM axed the Pontiac brand in 2009 as part of GM’s bankruptcy, after which then-CEO Fritz Henderson kyboshed product chief Bob Lutz’s hopes of releasing a Chevrolet-badged version of the Commodore SS.

Holden began shipping its Adelaide-made Chevrolet Caprice PPV police car, based on Australia’s long-wheelbase Caprice sedan, last year and GM executives both here and the US – including former Holden chief and GM North America president Mark Reuss – have not hidden their enthusiasm for the US release of a civilian model.

“There’s no plans to do it (export the Commodore) right now,” said Mr Reuss at the time. “We love the car but we can’t talk about future product plans. (It was a) big loss when we lost the G8. “We all love the car - I’ll just leave it at that.”

13 center imageLeft: Pontiac G8 pace car. Below: Holden Commodore SS V.

Current CEO Mike Devereux recently said Holden - whose Caprice PPV export program has failed to meet its sales targets partly because the strong Australian currency has made the imported police car less competitive with its US-built rivals from Ford and Chrysler on price - was focussed on sustainable domestic profitability without exports.

However, Holden this week did not rule out the establishment of a new US public vehicle export program, which it says would be a bonus if it made good business sense.

“We’ve spoken at length recently about the fact the high Aussie dollar makes exports to the US pretty tough at the moment,” Holden’s senior product communications manager Kate Lonsdale told GoAuto.

“That’s not to say we’re not looking at opportunities – we always are. It’s not easy right now, so (there is) no announcement regarding exports but we’ve always got our eyes open.” Of course, if Chevrolet chose to introduce the Commodore to its showrooms and the NASCAR circuit, it would not do so with a model that dates back to 2006, when the redesigned VF Commodore is less than two years away.

As we’ve reported, the next-generation Commodore - engineering ‘mule’ versions of which are already undergoing testing on Victorian public roads - will be based on a modified version of the large ‘Zeta’ rear-wheel drive platform that was developed by Holden for its billion-dollar VE Commodore (and should also underpin new models from Cadillac, Chevrolet and possibly Buick in the 2016-17 model years).

Dressed in an all-new bodyshell that, in an Australian-first, will include aluminium panels and other lightweight components developed with the aid of a $39.8 million federal grant to help make the car about seven per cent more fuel-efficient, the VF will also feature electric power steering and improved aerodynamics.

Holden is currently negotiating a funding deal to shore up its Australian manufacturing operations beyond the life of the current Cruze and next Commodore, which will be retired by 2020, and is expected to make an announcement soon.

Before then, the 2014 Commodore is expected to emerge – at the earliest - at the 2013 Melbourne show next July, before entering production in the third quarter of next year.

That in itself would preclude the street version from appearing in full production trim in the US within a year, let alone the race version embarking on an assault of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup series, which begins next February.

It seems unlikely that Chevrolet would invest millions to promote an imported, low-volume V8 sedan from Australia in one of North America’s largest motorsports, but US reports continue to insist the Commodore SS-based Pontiac G8 will be reborn for public consumption as the Chevy ‘SS Sedan’ – a name that US website GM Inside News claimed to have witnessed on official GM documents in March last year.

At the time, GMI said the documents also revealed that GM was considering adding Commodore Sportwagon and Ute models to the sedan in US Chevrolet dealerships – the latter referred to in the documents as El Camino, the name used by Chevrolet for its legendary coupe ute between 1959 and 1987.

While the SS Sedan was referred to in the documents as Z2SC, codenames for the then-unconfirmed Sportwagon and El Camino programs were listed as Z2WC and Z2RC respectively. The ‘Z’ is likely to refer to Zeta, while the ‘2’ might refer to the second generation of this platform for which GM Holden is the ‘home room’.

GMI said the documents showed that the Chevrolet SS Sedan and, if approved, El Camino would be launched in North America in early 2013 as 2014 models, with the Sportwagon to follow later next year.

GM killed off Holden’s Pontiac G8 sedan in April 2009, which also spelled the end of a planned export program for the Holden Ute, which was to be launched in North America as the Pontiac G8 ST (Sport Truck) the same year.

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