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‘Chevy SS’ leak sparks hope for Holden exports
Holden’s US Caprice police car program may be expanded to showrooms after all
17 Nov 2009
A CHEVROLET version of GM Holden’s ill-fated Commodore-based Pontiac G8 could soon be confirmed for North American showrooms.
The move would mark the return of a significant US export program for Holden in the wake of arch-rival Ford's announcement it will vie with the Statesman-based Caprice patrol car for Stateside police car business.
Expectations of a Chevrolet iteration of the Australian-made sedan, which was discontinued when GM axed the Pontiac brand earlier this year, have increased after the appearance on a Pontiac G8 web forum of an official GM email that refers to the “MY11.5 Chevy Police Program and MY12 Chevy SS”.
US website Autoblog says this is proof that a high-performance version of the Pontiac G8 will be resurrected in the form of a Chev SS, possibly badged as an Impala, in 2011.
New GM president and CEO Fritz Henderson has consistently denied that Holden’s long and short-wheelbase chassis architecture would be employed in the US for anything other than the officially revealed WM-based Caprice Police Patrol vehicle (PPV), but former GM product chief Bob Lutz has repeatedly said the VE-derived G8 “is too good to waste”.
Now, in what would be the perfect supplement to exports of the 2011 Caprice PPV for Holden, whose Middle East export business slumped even before its US export program evaporated, former Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss has suggested that a Chevrolet version of either the G8 or the Caprice PPV itself could be made available to the US public.
From top: Ford Crown Victoria police car, Ford Taurus SHO, former Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss.
Asked in a recent episode of the online automotive program Autoline After Hours if a civilian version of the Caprice patrol car would be unveiled at Detroit in less than two months, GM’s new vice-president of global vehicle engineering said: “I can’t comment on our future products …“(But) I think there’s a real good thing that will happen with these police cars too is that people will like seeing the car and it never hurts to create a little interest around making a product decision, so we’ll see how people like it with a Chev badge on it and see how that goes.”
Mr Reuss said GM had agonised over producing a Chev-badged version of the G8 but decided to develop a police version of the Middle East’s left-hand drive Caprice first.
He said he expected the PPV’s more consistent sales volumes to shore up almost an entire shift of workers at Holden’s Elizabeth assembly plant, following the demise of Ford's aged Crown Victoria, which has been left virtually unchanged since 1992 but commands a 75 per cent share of US police car sales.
“I can tell you that we had a lot of discussion around that – I did late at night …“(But) None of us felt right about badge engineering from an integrity point of view, so if there’s an opportunity to do something else maybe a little later … people will remember what this car is and what this platform is.
“I’m not saying we’re going retail. (But) If there’s an opportunity to do some things to the car to make the car even better maybe or do in a different way than stick Chev badges on it, then we’ve really got to think about that. We’ll try to do everything we can with integrity.
“The cop car was something I really wanted to have happen here (in the US) because it’s very stable volume and it can be (employing) almost a shift of people at Adelaide in South Australia.
“Overall there’s an 80,000 Crown Vic space that we’re going to go in and play with this police car and the police car looks good.”
Mr Reuss’ comments preceded Ford Motor Company's announcement late last week that it would not walk away from the lucrative US police vehicle market when production of the Crown Victoria ceases in 2011.
The surprise confirmation comes just over a month after GM and Holden revealed the Caprice PPV concept, which will be made available to US law enforcement agencies from early 2011.
Ford’s intention to offer a seamless transition to the new interceptor within about six months later was not completely unexpected, but is likely to represent a serious blow to Holden’s hopes of claiming the lion’s share of the US police market.
Ford Australia has ruled out any involvement in the program with its Falcon, which remains one of the few remaining rear-drive passenger cars in the Ford world, leaving an all-wheel drive version of the Blue Oval’s new large Taurus sedan as the prime candidate for police duty.
“We are aware of it, but we have not had anything to do with it,” said Ford Australia spokeswoman Sinead McAlary. “It is a US-only program.”
Holden’s long-wheelbase Statesman-based police vehicle debuted at a US police chiefs convention in Denver on October 3, when new GM Holden chairman and managing director Alan Batey confirmed his company would be gunning for a large slice of US police and emergency service vehicle business.
“It changes nothing for us,” was the only comment Holden spokesman Scott Whiffin was prepared to make today.
But Ford’s confirmation that it will produce an as-yet-unidentified replacement for the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, for a market it has dominated for more than a decade, has significant implications for Holden’s police export plans.
“We are at 70-plus per cent, and we intend to stay there,” vice-president of Ford sales and marketing Ken Czubay told Detroit Free Press. “We understand the police business, we've been doing it for decades and … I think we demonstrated integrity and service to these branches of government and we're going to continue.
“Ford long has supported our public servants with vehicles that work as hard as they do. We intend to build on this legacy with a new generation of municipal and police vehicles that set even higher standards.” Announcing the new Police Interceptor last Friday (November 13), Ford’s president of The Americas Mark Fields stressed the Blue Oval’s new interceptor would be designed and manufactured in the US, in an apparent swipe at GM’s Australian-built Caprice PPV.
“We have heard the repeated requests from the law enforcement community to continue uninterrupted support of the law enforcement community,” he said. “Ford is answering the call with the new Police Interceptor – engineered and built in America.”
Sales of the Crown Victoria – 90 per cent of which are sold to police and other emergency service and government fleets, with much of the remainder seeing duty as New York’s iconic yellow taxis – were down 33 per cent at 28,458 to August this year.
But Ford has traditionally sold 45,000 Crown Victorias a year to police fleets, which alone buy more than 60,000 vehicles a year, making it North America’s largest provider of police and municipal vehicles.
Ford is just the latest manufacturer to deal a potentially serious blow to what should have become Holden’s largest single export program.
Although the Dodge Charger Police Car from Chrysler was not expected to be a large player in the US police vehicle market, Chrysler told the Detroit Free Press that it plans to increase its share on the segment from a current 17 per cent to 40 per cent in the next 12 to 18 months.
“Based on results of third-party testing and the activities going on in the marketplace, we feel there is a good opportunity to grow our sales,” Chrysler spokeswoman Cathy Graham told the DFP.
Meantime, Carbon Motors Corporation, a new start-up US police vehicle manufacturer based in Connersville, Indiana, plans to introduce a vehicle codenamed the Carbon E7 and designed specifically for law enforcement duty in 2012. CMC says the E7 was designed with input from 3500 of North America’s 840,000 first-response law enforcers.
Powered by an unspecified 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine and claimed to accelerate to 60mph in just 6.5 seconds, the all-new rear-drive police vehicle is said to have already attracted 12,000 orders from more than 200 law enforcement units across the US.
Like Holden’s Caprice PPV, the Dodge Charger sports sedan is available with both V6 and V8 petrol engines. The Caprice employs the same 3.6 and 6.0-litre Vee engines as the Commodore, while the Charger engines displace 3.5 and 5.7 litres. Chevrolet’s current police vehicle, the front-drive Impala, runs only a 3.9-litre V6.
The Crown Victoria nameplate, which dates back to 1955 and along with the closely related Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis remains the only full-frame rear-drive passenger car built in the US, will cease to exist in the third quarter of 2011.
The earlier than expected production shutdown follows a cost-cutting agreement signed by Ford and the Canadian Auto Workers union on October 30, which includes the closure of the St Thomas plant in Ontario, where the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis are built.
While Ford did not accept bailout money from the US government like Chrysler and General Motors, some 1500 Ford workers will be sacked as a result of the agreement, which and also includes a reduction in leave periods and co-payments on health care, plus a guarantee to keep at least 10 per cent of Ford’s North American production in Canada.
The agreement, which expires in September 2012, is the second reached between the CAW and Ford in 18 months.
Ford said it has made a significant investment in a new purpose-built Police Interceptor, which will be based on the same front and all-wheel drive large-car platform that underpins the 2010 Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS full-size sedans.
Unlike the Crown Victoria, which emerged in the early 1980s and has been the subject of numerous law suits relating to fuel-tank explosions during rear-end collisions, the new police model will eschew a rigid ladder chassis construction.
Ford said its new interceptor would offer better fuel economy, quality and durability than the Crown Victoria it would replace. Although the Taurus does not offer a V8, a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre EcoBoost petrol V6 from the flagship SHO variant and all-wheel drive capability should suit police pursuit and cold-climate duties.
The company said the car was developed over the past 14 months with input from its own Police Advisory Board, and will be revealed along with full specifications in the first quarter of 2011 – in time for law enforcement agencies, police equipment manufacturers and retro-fitters to prepare for the changeover from the Crown Vic.
Fleet manager of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a member of Ford’s Police Advisory Board Lt Brian Moran said he expected Ford’s Crown Vic replacement to be significantly more advanced.
“Ford’s commitment to the law enforcement community produced the Crown Victoria, the benchmark police vehicle,” he said.
“This commitment has continued, and Ford has been working closely with the Police Advisory Board on developing the new Police Interceptor. I am confident that the next-generation Ford police vehicle will meet the future needs of the law enforcement community and will set the new standard.”
Australian industry minister Kim Carr met with the most senior Ford and GM executives last month for trade talks and came away with ambitious sales forecasts for the Caprice PPV.
“The truth of the matter is that the Crown Victoria is a vehicle that is going out of production, that has dominated the police market in the US for a very long time, and it is timely that GMH has put this bid forward,” he told GoAuto.
“Law enforcement agencies in the United States buy about 80,000 patrol cars a year. Capturing even a quarter of this market would be a coup for Holden. It would be an important step in the transformation of the industry, which must ultimately be export-led.”
Mr Reuss said the federal government had helped open export doors in relation to the Caprice police vehicle.
“The Australian government has really helped us to show the capability of it (the PPV) in places like LA, which are the big police markets, and they did a wonderful job.”
GM’s global engineering chief said he expected Ford to offer a Crown Victoria replacement, but that the Caprice PPV’s early reveal would give it an advantage.
“We’re going to be there pretty quick I think,” said Mr Reuss. “We’ve got to make sure the police understand what we’re doing for them. We making the police car for the police so when the police start ordering and they like we’ll make as many as they want.”
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