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Holden's hush-hush Alpha concept

Under wraps: A concept car codenamed Alpha was prepared at GM Australia Design’s fabrication workshop about the same time as the first internal Buick Flagship concept that became to be called Avenir (pictured).

Mystery Alpha concept car was built at Holden but remains under lock and key


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25 Feb 2016

A SECRET concept car called Alpha was prepared at General Motors Australia Design's skunkworks in Melbourne a few years ago but remains under wraps.

The name of the mystery vehicle came to light during a rare tour by journalists of the facility next to GM Holden's Australian headquarters at Fishermans Bend where the car was listed in a wall-mounted honour roll of the 30 or so concept and show vehicles built there since the current workshop was opened in 2003.

The Alpha name suggests a link with GM's Alpha rear-wheel-drive platform that underpins recent high-end performance and luxury cars such as the 2013 Cadillac ATS, 2014 Cadillac CTS and 2016 Chevrolet Camaro.

The striking American-designed two-door Buick Avista concept coupe that won many hearts at last month's Detroit motor show is also said to have been built on the Alpha global platform developed in the United States.

GM Australia Design executives are tight lipped about the Alpha concept, saying only that it was built for GM internal purposes and had not been shown publicly anywhere.

Apparently developed “a number of years ago”, before GM's decision to shut Australian car manufacturing, the vehicle invites speculation that it might have been Holden's stillborn vision for a next-generation Commodore and related Chevrolet SS after the current range dies in 2017, or perhaps an Australian pitch for the new-generation Camaro.

Interestingly, the Alpha vehicle appears to have been built by the Australian team in the high-security centre immediately after it built the first draft of the award-winning Buick Avenir concept.

Originally simply called Flagship, as in Buick Flagship, the first version of this Australian-designed Avenir large sedan concept was built by the shortcut method of fibreglass panels.

That concept was shipped to Detroit where GM design vice-president Ed Welburn – who had commissioned the Avenir from the Australian design team – was so taken by it that he ordered a full-blown operational show car for display at the 2015 Detroit show.

That second Avenir was then fabricated in the Melbourne facility which is one of only two such workshops in the GM world that can build a drivable concept from the ground up. The other is in Detroit.

Although Avenir is destined never to be built, partly because of the decline in global large-car sales but also because it likely would pull sales from sister brand Cadillac, its design cues live on in other new-generation production Buicks and, potentially, Holdens, Opels and Vauxhalls.

The Avenir was built on the pioneering Omega architecture that made its showroom debut only last month under the new Cadillac flagship, the CT6. That rear/all-wheel drive platform, which has an innovative mix of cast aluminium and high-strength steel for high strength and low weight, was engineered in the US by a team led by Australian Trevor Hester.

It is unusual for concept vehicles fabricated at the Melbourne workshops to disappear without trace, with most going on to bask in the spotlight at international motor shows.

Just next month, the Melbourne-built, European-designed Opel GT sports coupe concept will make its debut at the Geneva motor show.

It is unclear if the Alpha concept was designed by GM Australia Design, as the fabrication facility builds concepts and show cars for a variety of GM studios around the world.

Under such a deal, the team built three new-model Sparks for Chevrolet ahead of the recent global release. The Spark was primarily designed by GM Korea, and is set to be released in Holden showrooms in April.

In the list of completed projects at the Melbourne workshop – each named on a wall-mounted colour “frog” that designers typically use to highlight vehicle colours – the Sparks were listed under the codename M2JC, which GM designers confirmed was the 2016 Spark.

The three variants were named as Active, RS and LTZ. Coincidentally or not, Chevrolet showed an amped-up Spark RS concept at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas in October.

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