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Holden's Chinese Buick

Avenue of honour: Holden's Caprice was thoroughly redesigned inside.

China next on Holden’s export agenda, but where to next for GM’s rear-drive plans?

11 Apr 2007

GENERAL Motors’ plan to take GM Holden’s VE Commodore/WM Statesman global has hit a snag on the eve of last night’s announcement that GM Shanghai will release a re-engineered Holden Caprice, badged as the Buick Park Avenue luxury sedan, in China.

To be publicly revealed at the Auto Shanghai motor show on April 22, the Park Avenue is essentially a Buick-badged Holden Caprice with a Chinese-designed interior and will effectively replace the WM Statesman-based Buick Royaum, which has been sold in both 190kW/340Nm 3.6-litre V6 and 155kW/250Nm 2.8-litre V6 guises since 2005.

Unlike both the previous-generation Royaum and the WM Caprice-based Daewoo LX4 revealed at last week’s Seoul motor show in South Korea, however, the Buick Park Avenue will be manufactured by Shanghai GM at its Jinqiao plant in China.

GM announced with great fanfare that its 2006 Chevrolet Camaro coupe concept will enter left-hand drive production for the US by early 2009, representing the first totally rebodied model based on the new global large rear-wheel drive architecture, formerly codenamed Zeta, that underpins Holden’s VE and WM.

In a platform sharing arrangement that was originally forecast to produce between 500,000 and 700,000 vehicles globally, the Zeta architecture was also expected to spawn 2009’s new Chevrolet Impala sedan for the US and further Camaro derivatives, including the 2009 convertible.

However, recent comments by GM product development chief Bob Lutz appear to have cast a cloud over all Zeta models beyond the Camaro coupe, following a proposal by the Bush administration to raise emission standards by four per cent per year, which Mr Lutz said would lift new-car prices by $US5000.

"We've pushed the pause button. It's no longer full speed ahead," he told the Chicago Tribune this week in relation to future rear-drive models from GM, following a recent US Supreme Court ruling that the US Environmental Protection Agency can and should regulate CO2 standards – something it has not done previously.

US car-makers including GM are in litigation over the state of California’s "CAFE" fuel consumption laws and Mr Lutz is reported to have said that 30 per cent better fuel consumption for the large Camaro and Impala models was not possible without serious investment, which would have to be passed on to consumers.

Whether or not Mr Lutz is playing politics with US government departments, the outspoken GM executive revealed his passionate, if one-eyed, stance on the matter by saying: "If we legislate CO2 from cars, why not legislate we take one less breath per minute since humans release capricious amounts of CO2?"According to the Chicago Tribune, Mr Lutz said it was too late to stop production of the Camaro, but that "anything after that is questionable".

If the EPA does impose tighter CO2 standards in the US, a number of crucial future rear-drive GM models will be affected, including the next Buick Lucerne, a compact Cadillac and performance versions of the Solstice and Sky roadsters.

Three Asian-developed micro cars revealed by GM at this month’s New York motor show won’t aid the world’s largest car-maker in its cause to lower its vehicle fleet’s consumption levels because CAFE only relates to US-built cars.

13 center imageThe Chinese-built Park Avenue follows the reveal of Korea’s Daewoo LX4 (on sale from 2008), the Pontiac G8-badged VE Commodore SS (up to 50,000 of which will be exported to the US and Canada annually from October) and the VE/WM-based Chevrolet Lumina/Caprice, which went on sale in November in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The Middle East represents GM Holden’s largest and longest-running export market and comprised more than half of the record 60,518 vehicles it exported in 2005 – up from just 5508 vehicles 10 years earlier in 1996 and from a total of less than 67,000 for the entire 1990s.

However, Holden exports, which began in 1954 and have comprised a total of more than 772,000 vehicles, shrank to just 46,000 in 2006 following last year’s model changeover. Toyota was easily Australia's biggest vehicle exporter last year, largely thanks to Camry sales in the Middle East.

In 2006, Holden-built vehicles were shipped to the Middle East, Brazil and South Africa as Chevrolets (via the VZ/WL-based Lumina and Caprice), to the US as a Pontiac (the Monaro-based GTO coupe) and to New Zealand (full range).

Holden hopes to return to 2005 export levels in 2007, when it will ship the Lumina LS (based on the VE Omega), Lumina S (SV6), Lumina LTZ (Berlina), Lumina SS (SS), Caprice LS, Caprice LTZ (Statesman), Caprice SS and Caprice Royale (Caprice) to the Middle East.

In the US, Pontiac will sell the G8 (SV6) and G8 GT (SSV), while Brazil will take the Chevrolet Omega CD (Berlina).

For right-hand drive markets, GM Holden will supply the full range of VE and WM variants, South Africa will take the Chevrolet Lumina SS (SSV) and Lumina SS Ute (VZ SS Ute) and the UK will sell the HSV VE ClubSport R8 as the Vauxhall VXR8.

Though it won’t add to Holden’s export count, Park Avenue will be lucrative nonetheless.

Apart from exporting its intellectual property by having designed, developed and engineered it for China, GM Holden’s involvement in the Park Avenue program will also extend to the supply of two versions of the Port Melbourne-built Global V6 to power it.

The production of an unnamed number of 187kW/340Nm 3.6-litre and 150kW/265Nm 2.8-litre versions of the Alloytec V6 (to be labeled AlloyTec in China) at the $400 million Engine Operations plant in Victoria represents an engine export deal that Holden says is "expected to be worth several hundred million dollars to GM Holden over the next few years".

GM Holden’s engine export program (including, since 1981, more than four million examples of its Family II four-cylinder engine, which is currently shipped to South Korea, South Africa, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and China) generated more than $570 million last year alone, and remains a "key area" of its business.

Production of the Alloytec V6 began at Fishermen’s Bend in 2003, with domestic Commodore/Statesman engines being built from June 2004.

The Alloytec line-up comprises 2.8, 3.2 and 3.6-litre versions and is shipped to Italy (Alfa Romeo: 147, 159, GT, Brera and Spider 3.2), South Korea (Daewoo: Captiva 3.2), Germany (Opel/Vauxhaull: Antara 3.2 and Vectra 2.8 turbo), Thailand (Isuzu: Rodeo 3.6), South Africa (Chevrolet: Lumina and ute 3.6), Sweden (Saab: 9-3 and 9-5 2.8 turbo) and China (Buick: Park Avenue 2.8 and 3.6).

GM Holden nor GM Shanghai have issued sales forecasts for the Park Avenue, which will be the first vehicle to go into production outside Australia employing the GM Holden-developed global rear-wheel drive architecture.

However, as with the Daewoo LX4, which is similarly expected to be built in Korea within a few years, Buick Park Avenue sales volumes are expected to far exceed those of the WL-based forbears - the GM Daewoo Statesman and Buick Royaum respectively.

GM Holden says its specialist rear-wheel-drive engineering expertise was called upon for the Park Avenue "to engineer the car to serve as a luxury limousine for rear-seat passengers as distinct from the sports luxury, driver-orientated vehicle produced in Australia for domestic and export markets.

"The Buick Park Avenue is another exciting step in the worldwide adoption of the global rear-wheel drive architecture developed here in Australia and is a valuable export program for GM Holden in the world’s fastest growing auto market," said GM Holden chairman and managing director, Denny Mooney.

"Australia’s role in the forthcoming Chevrolet Camaro for the US market, and now the Buick Park Avenue for China, underlines how Australian design and engineering expertise is playing a lead role in General Motors’ worldwide vehicle production." Taking its monikere from the affluent New York City boulevard of the same name, Park Avenue is claimed to be "trendy and luxurious", as well as "representative of traditional American luxury sedans".

To be available in five variants, each Park Avenue will feature six airbags, full leather trim, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with massage function, an LCD entertainment system, a GPS navigation system that maps 300 Chinese cities, the GM Local Area Network (GM-LAN) high-speed communication system and the ability to control front seat positioning from the rear.

Park Avenue measures 5175mm long, 1899mm wide, 1480mm high and rides on a 3009mm wheelbase. Options will include Bluetooth mobile phone compatibility and a Remote Engine Start (RES) function – which can start the car up to minutes in advance from up to 60 metres away.

Claimed 0-100km/h acceleration is stated at 7.8 seconds for the 3.6-litre Buick Park Avenue "Flagship", which is priced at RMB 498,800 ($A78,000). The entry-level 2.8-litre Comfort opens Park Avenue pricing at RMB 328,800 ($51,500).

"The Park Avenue is the perfect blend of tranquility and power," said Shanghai GM president Ding Lei. "It shows Buick’s ability to move with the times while continuing to leverage our global resources and local knowledge.

"Designed especially for business leaders and other elites, it is a component of our effort to maintain our leadership position in China by addressing the needs of all of our customers."

Small wonders from GM

GM HOLDEN’S rear-wheel drive expertise could be broadened to include a new range of small cars for General Motors’ brands.

GM’s global product development vice-chairman Bob Lutz told GoAuto at the NewYork International Auto Show last week that the company was looking closely at a compact rear-wheel drive architecture that would underpin a range of new models.

"We are studying a smaller rear-wheel drive architecture – someplace between BMW 1 and BMW 3," he told GoAuto. "But we’ve made no decision on that yet."According to Mr Lutz, it was also too early to speculate on who would be in charge of developing such a vehicle – if it were given the green light – although he did not rule out Australia being a candidate.

"Since we haven’t made a decision to do the architecture it would be conjecture to try to figure out who would do it – if we did it at all," he said.

One thing for certain is that the current VE/Zeta rear-wheel drive architecture cannot lend itself to a small-car application as economicallyas Mr Lutz would like.

"It never works when you take a large architecture and try to make it smaller because it always winds up being too costly and too heavy," Mr Lutz said.

"There is some inherent cost and weight that you can’t take out when you do the shrinking process. It would be a clean sheet of paper fresh car."A small rear-wheel drive platform could underscore a whole series of General Motors’ vehicles worldwide, from a Lexus IS250 rival from Cadillac, to a three- and five-door hatchback Saab that would combat the Audi A3 and Volvo C30.

The architecture could also serve as a basis for the much-rumoured Holden Torana mid-sized sedan.

Mr Lutz did hint that the concept was advanced enough within General Motors to have its own identity.

"We call it Global Small Rear-Wheel Drive – although one of our executive calls it ‘Global Small-Wheel Drive’... but don’t let the designers hear that!" he said.

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