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Continental quest for VE Commodore

Bobby dazzler: Auto czar Bob Lutz (top) believes the VE Commodore could knock off the Insignia concept (above) as the front-runner for GM Europe's next large car.

Commodore under consideration as large sedan in Europe for Opel/Vauxhall

Holden logo3 Nov 2004

A REBADGED but barely restyled version of the forthcoming Holden VE Commodore is under serious consideration as the pragmatic solution to Opel and Vauxhall’s quest for a large sedan.

While this proposal has the support of GM executives as high as global car czar Bob Lutz, there is still the push for a ‘purist’ solution, which is a production version of the Insignia concept revealed at Frankfurt in 2003.

A decision is due by the end of the first quarter of 2005. The VE goes on sale in Australia in the first half of 2006.

The Australian chief of Vauxhall, Kevin Wale, appears to fall into the Lutz camp of pragmatists, while Opel chief Carl-Peter Forster is at the head of the purists.

However, to get Insignia up and flying Mr Forster has to pull together a viable business case, an obvious challenge at a time when GM Europe continues to bleed financially.

Whichever way the choice goes, the Opel/Vauxhall large car that replaces the now retired Omega will be based on the Australian-developed Zeta rear-wheel drive architecture.

And whatever design comes out of Australia bound for Europe it will close the loop on a process that began in the 1970s when the original first generation Commodore was based on Opel technology.

"I think the Commodore could easily be the next generation top-of-the-range Opel saloon," said Mr Lutz. "No problem at all.""Basically it is the same design language and you could argue the original chassis was derived from the Opel Omega, so in a way it would be returning home.

"And there is no question in my mind that when you drive the 2005 (Pontiac) GTO that Holden knows how to execute world class dynamics when it comes to chassis."Holden is also conducting a development program with turbo-diesel technology that would play a vital part in any Commodore export program to Europe.

There appears to be three front-running sourcing choices for Holden turbo-diesel technology: Isuzu, the GM-Fiat joint venture and a new VM Motori unit being developed initially for use in the forthcoming Daewoo S3X cross-over that will be sold in Australia as a Holden.

The introduction of the sophisticated new Alloytec engine also provides Holden with better European petrol engine options that can be built in capacities as small as 2.8 litres, with or without turbocharging.

While Opel/Vauxhall appears a strong chance to take the VE Commodore, Mr Lutz revealed there was no guarantee it would be built in Australia

Mr Wale said that an Opel/Vauxhall Commodore as a mainstream model in Europe would assist in his desire to niche market other Holden models such as the Monaro and the utility.

"The ideal arrangement for us would be to do one across Europe so we could use that as a somewhat mainstream product and leverage the derivatives off that," he said.

"And we know how to do low-volume derivatives and the Monaro has been a great exercise to prove to us that we can do that.

"Obviously I am biased," he added. "I know the Zeta is a terrific car and would do very well there (Europe). There are a lot of requirements for compliance with European conditions and particularly a diesel engine and emissions. So it is always an expensive exercise full stop, and that’s probably the biggest issue.

"Styling-wise, yeah, I think one of the strong potentials is it could be similar to the Australian styling, but that is not the only one that is being considered."While Opel/Vauxhall appears a strong chance to take the VE Commodore, Mr Lutz revealed there was no guarantee it would be built in Australia, a direct result of the global architecture plans that GM is putting in place.

"If we did it, would Opel want to assemble it? Would they want to duplicate the tooling? Would they take it directly from Holden with Opel badges on it? Would the parts go to GM South Africa? We could use the low labour rates in GM South Africa and then export to Europe because there are no duties for South African product coming into Europe.

"We are playing all those games now and analysing business plan opportunities."

Sizing up Saab

WHILE a role for the Zeta architecture is locked in with Opel/Vauxhall, and possibly the VE Commodore sedan package, Mr Lutz says Saab is not quite so clear cut.

The premium brand’s replacement for the ageing 9-5 large car has been linked to Zeta, but Mr Lutz told GoAuto that the Australian-developed technology was more likely to be seen under something larger.

"It (a Zeta-based Saab) would need to be pretty premium. It would be 9-5-and-a-half, because you would want all-wheel drive because you wouldn’t want to have to explain to the world why Saab is suddenly rear-wheel drive," he said.

Mr Lutz also flagged the proposition that such a car would probably not be built in Sweden, and potentially not even in Europe.

"With this whole thing of global architectural integration, any Zeta plant should be able to build any other Zeta, so were we to decide to do a 9-5-and-a-half, or 9-6, or 9-8, or whatever you want to call it off of Zeta, it could come out China, or Korea," he said.

"But that doesn’t mean Saab designers wouldn’t do the design, the detailing, the interior, the safety standards.

"We have got to start sourcing globally, we no longer have the option of being able to tell ourselves that Saab is Swedish and every Saab must be built in Sweden.

"Sweden is just about the most expensive country in the world now to build cars in. If it is one world, we are going to be treated as one world."* Interestingly, Mr Lutz’s concerns about having to explain a rear-wheel drive Saab to the world is not shared by his boss, General Motors chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner.

"I personally think they (the issues of building a rear-wheel drive Saab) are manageable, but we just need to work through it a little bit," he told GoAuto.

"But it is certainly a possible solution for that (large car) segment for Saab, and it may be the best way."

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