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Holden Commodore axed

Over and out: The Holden Commodore will be no more from next year when stocks will be run out, ending 41 years of front-line service for the lion brand.

Commodore dropped in shock cull of Holden passenger cars as sales plunge

10 Dec 2019

HOLDEN has announced the shock dumping of its best-known model, the Commodore, in a cull of its passenger car line-up as the company turns itself into a ute and SUV brand.


The Astra small car will also be axed next year in the shake-up that comes as Holden sales hit historic lows in a slide accelerated by the demise of local manufacturing in 2017.


Apart from the Chevrolet Corvette that is due to come into the Holden portfolio next year, Holden showrooms will be stocked only with SUVs such as the Equinox, Trailblazer, Acadia and Trax, as well as the Colorado ute, after the current crop of sedans and hatches runs out in 2020.


The decision was announced by interim chairman and managing director Kristian Aquilina who took the helm only last week after the resignation of former Toyota Australia president Dave Buttner for personal reasons.


Referring to the market switch from passenger cars towards SUVs and utes, Mr Aquilina said the decision was consistent with customer preferences.


“Holden is taking this decisive action to ensure a sharp focus on the largest and most buoyant market segments,” he said.


“So far this year SUVs and utes have increased to 76 per cent of Holden sales, a trend we only see continuing.”


The large-car segment in Australia has fallen from 217,882 sales in 1998 to just 8700 units this year, while SUV sales are approaching 500,000 and light-commercial vehicles more than 200,000.


Mr Aquilina said the decision to retire the Commodore nameplate had not been taken lightly.


“The large sedan was the cornerstone of Australian and New Zealand roads for decades,” he said. 


“But now with more choice than ever before, customers are displaying a strong preference for the high driving position, functionality and versatility of SUVs and utes.”


The decision is likely to further alienate rusted-on Holden fans who were already miffed at the switch from the traditional locally designed, locally built rear-wheel-drive Commodore to the current front-wheel-drive, Opel-sourced ZB Commodore based on the Opel/ Vauxhall Insignia.


The decision to carry over the Commodore name to the Insignia-based sedan and wagon was controversial, even within General Motors where several high-ranking global executives voiced concern that the new model was not a real Commodore.


Holden has sold more than three million Commodores since the original VB Commodore – itself based on an Opel model – was launched in 1978.


The Commodore was Australia’s best-selling car for 15 years straight, from 1996 to 2010, helping to put Holden at the top of the Australian car sales tree.


But with the gradual shrinking of the large-car market, the Commodore fell from favour to the point where Holden parent company GM pulled the pin on Australian manufacturing, after trying (unsuccessfully) to diversify into small cars with the locally built Cruze.


Holden’s market share has since fallen dramatically, this year retreating to an historically low 4.1 per cent, down from 5.2 per cent last year, and putting it in a lowly 10th place on the sales ladder.


The sales decline came to a crunch last month when Holden sold just 2668 vehicles – fewer than Mercedes-Benz – to garner only 3.1 per cent market share, its lowest market slice in the company’s 71-year history.


Despite year-on-year sales falls, including a 37 per cent tumble this year, the Commodore, with 5417 sales in the year to date, is still Holden’s second-best seller behind the Colorado and ahead of all the much-vaunted new SUVs.


Dropping the Commodore and Astra will put a 10,000-unit hole in annual Holden sales, worsening the slide before it gets better.


To help smooth the run-out for both models through 2020, Holden has slapped them with seven years of free schedule servicing, plus the same seven-year warranty as other 2019-plated Holden models.


Ultimately, Holden would have had to face up to the demise of the Commodore and Astra anyway, as GM has sold Opel to France’s PSA Group, meaning the current models were likely to be the last from that source.


The demise of Commodore also begs the question of what will happen with Holden’s Supercars motor racing presence when the big sedan has been a dominant performer for decades, winning the Bathurst 1000 a record 26 times.


The Commodore will almost certainly soldier on in the 2020 season, but a question mark hangs over future seasons.

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