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VE Ute confirmed for US, but not as a Chev
GM dashes reborn El Camino (and Crewman) hopes as Holden says VE Ute is export-ready
29 Aug 2007
HOLDEN has confirmed that its all-new VE Ute is ready for export to left-hand drive markets, including the United States, but General Motors' global product chief Bob Lutz has quashed hopes it could become the latter-day replacement for the Chevrolet El Camino.
According to gminsidenews.com, in response to a member's emailed suggestion that the Ute should adopt more of a Chevrolet look if it is sold in the US, GM's global vice-chairman of product development and GM North America chairman Bob Lutz said: "Well, that's what we want to do, but it won't be a Chevrolet." An announcement is due within the next 12 months and the latest betting is the VE Ute will carry either Pontiac or GMC badges in the US, in an arrangement that would see the VE Ute follow the VE sedan on sale in the US.
In an unpreceded export deal, up to 50,000 modified VE Commodore SS sedans will be sold in the US annually as the 2008 Pontiac G8 sedan from early next year.
Holden revealed with great fanfare its first G8 prototype in June, and GoAuto reader Jesse White has snapped what appears to be a near-final production version of the Holden-built G8 - the first example of the Holden-designed global rear-wheel drive large-car architecture (dubbed Zeta) to be exported outside Australia - on Melbourne roads wearing a Pontiac grille and spoiler, but with 17-inch Holden wheels.
GM Holden’s new chairman and managing director Chris Gubbey revealed at the VE Ute’s reveal last week that LHD prototypes were being assessed in the US.
However, he stopped short of confirming that an export deal, which could result in G8-style export numbers, was being negotiated with GM North America.
“No, it’s certainly not a done deal (but) we have got prototypes (in the US) and they are reviewing the vehicle,” he said.
“They have been very excited about it... the guys over in the US have been really excited about the design. They have to now balance up whether that fits the demographics and the segmentation of their own markets – but we’re hopeful.” Much of the ute’s LHD conversion work was done as part of Holden’s export deal with Pontiac, as well as with the Buick Park Avenue, a development of the WM Statesman/Caprice to be built in LHD guise in China.
Besides reconfiguring the steering wheel and related controls, the VE Ute has the fuel tank forward of the rear axle and meets all the safety regulations necessary for US market certification.
This is despite the fact that the VE ute is unavailable, for the time being, with either side or curtain airbags – an omission, according to Holden, that relates to packaging issues such as having enough space for curtain airbag deployment.
“We put in a lot of effort with ultra-high-strength steel in the B-pillars, a lot of extra crossmembers … so within the normal safety limits of the cars over the safety belt, we have done a lot of testing... and the results have been promising,” Mr Gubbey said.
Holden engineering director Tony Hyde added that the wall separating the cabin and cargo area also provides additional protection from side-impact intrusion.
Left: Holden's Pontiac G8, on the road in production trim. Pic: Jesse White.
While the chief engineer would not reveal when side and curtain airbags would arrive, he indicated that they may still be some time off – certainly not before the VE ute’s first facelift, which is due next year.
“We’re working on it,” Mr Hyde said. “It doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.” Holden’s domestic and export focus with the new ute is solely on rear-wheel drive pick-up configurations, with management also confirming last week that four-door dual-cab, one-tonne and AWD versions of the VE Ute will not be forthcoming – in either RHD or LHD guise.
“I can assure you there will be no One-Tonner or Crewman,” said Mr Hyde. “We’ve been there and we can’t make any money out of it and nobody wanted to buy it. This is why we got out of the business.
“Besides, we don’t want anything different going down the line at the plant. We want all the cars to have the same front and rear suspension.” For the first time, the ute can go down the same main body line as the sedan, adding significant efficiencies to the manufacturing process.
“Even if marketing wanted it, we’ve run out of puff – in terms of engineering resources and how much money it costs,” Mr Hyde added. “The good times have long gone, from the point of view of sitting around on mountains of cash and wondering what to do with it... so it’s just not going to happen.
“Whatever happens in the future is because of the global effort.” Mr Gubbey added that Holden had looked “at all potential variants, but at the moment what we basically see on the market is what is carrying the vehicle”.
“It’s a matter of weighing in (the extra investment) against how the vehicle will sell in the marketplace, and what the customer feedback is,” he said.
On the subject of powertrains, Mr Hyde said a diesel engine was “not on the agenda at the moment”.
“It is always something that we are researching – the alternative powertrains that we could put into the vehicle,” he said.
“It is a very expensive exercise at the moment... certainly in terms of what the customer wants to see in a ute, we are still sticking with V6 and V8 engines.
“But... we will continually look at the marketplace, and continually research what’s the right powertrain for our product.”
Read more:First look: Clean sheet for Holden VE Ute
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