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First look: Holden Ute becomes Pontiac sport truck
Holden announces twin-pronged US export plan with G8 ute and 6.2-litre GXP sedan
16 Mar 2008
Pontiac will present the Australian-made G8 ute and a high performance version of the G8 sedan at the New York Motor Show tomorrow morning.
The red-hot GXP is due to go on sale in the US late this year, while the Pontiac G8 sport truck is expected to hit dealerships in the second half of 2009.
The news that the ute will be exported to the US represents a massive boost for Holden, which has long tried to have its car-based hauler take on hulking American pick-ups.
GM Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss also vowed to further extend the company's export portfolio when he announced the deal at Fishermans Bend on Sunday.
The Ute will be sold as a Pontiac G8 variant although its actual title is yet to be decided.
Pontiac will ask the public to come up with an apt title for the car-based ute.
The Pontiac ute, which was styled by Holden designers in Australia, picks up a similar front end to the G8 sedan.
Mr Reuss said the export announcement was a significant step for Holden.
"The two models really enhance Holden's global position as the centre of rear-wheel drive," he said.
More than 50 per cent of Holden's production capacity at its Elizabeth plant is dedicated to export models.
Announcing the new export contracts, Mr Reuss re-enforced his view that Holden should chase even more overseas sales.
"I have the personal commitment to expand what we are doing from an export and engineering standpoint in Australia," he said.
The G8 GXP sedan runs a 6.2-litre LS3 V8 from the Corvette rather than the 6.0-litre LS2 that serves the current HSV models.
It comes from a different engine family to the 6.0-litre GEN IV used in regular Commodore V8 models.
It is expected that the more advanced 6.2-litre engine will also be used by Holden Special Vehicles in Australia at some stage, perhaps within a year.
By packaging a 6.2-litre for the GXP, Holden has already done a lot of the foundation work for its inclusion in the Commodore/HSV models.
Pontiac has announced the ute will run a 6.0-litre GEN IV V8, which like the G8 V8 sedan, features displacement on demand cylinder de-activating fuel saving technology.
Australians could soon expect this feature on V8 engines in the Commodore range.
The American ute will also be offered with side and curtain airbags, something that is not currently available on Australian Holden models.
GoAuto understands the side and curtain airbags were engineered for, and funded by, the Pontiac ute project, but the technology will soon be available for the Holden Ute range.
Car-based utes are not new to the US, with Ford selling its Ranchero and GM offering the Chevrolet El Camino and GMC Caballero. Sales of all variants peaked in the 1970s, but the segment struggled in the 1980s and the final El Camino was built in 1987.
Nothing like those vehicles are currently on the market in the US, with the closest models being pick-up trucks like the Ford F150 fitted with high-output engines.
Holden has long attempted to export its Ute model to the US and hopes were raised that the previous-generation vehicle would join the GM garage along with the Monaro-based Pontiac GTO, which failed to win the hearts and minds of American customers.
Mr Reuss was not about to nominate a volume target for the VE-based ute, stating that it was not clear how well it would sell in the US.
"It went out of production because no-one wanted to buy it. This one is terrific, but I really don't know (how it will sell)," Mr Reuss said.
"We don't know what something like the ute will do in the US from a buyer's standpoint, but it is defining a new segment and we are very excited about that," he said.
When asked if production capacity at Holden's Elizabeth plant could pose a problem if the G8 ute took off in the US, Mr Reuss said the company would be able to handle it.
"We hope we will have that problem, we'll work out how to deal with it, but that's a nice problem to have," Mr Reuss said.
In the US, the general manager for Buick, Pontiac and GMC, Jim Bunnell said the Pontiac ute would be a segment defining vehicle.
"There's simply nothing else like the G8 sport truck on the road today and we definitely believe that there are customers who will be excited by its distinctive design, performance and cargo capabilities," Mr Bunnell said.
Mr Reuss made it clear what he thought Pontiac should call the new model.
"I had one suggestion, that they call it the Ute and get on with it," he said.
The range-topping GXP model adds even more muscle to the G8 nameplate that has been received well by the US motoring media.
The 6.2-litre V8 engine to be slotted into the GXP generates 300kW and 546Nm.
It runs a larger bore than the 6.0-litre LS2 and has high flow cylinder heads, intake manifold and injectors.
There are also new pistons designed for higher revs, with the engine cut-out raised to 6600 rpm.
The LS3 runs an aluminum block, with cast-iron bore liners and retains traditional push-rod valve operation.
While the G8 is only currently offered with an automatic transmission, the GXP is going to be made available with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual.
It will be positioned as a well-specified premium performance model that will go head to head with the Dodge Charger SRT-8.
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