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Holden tight-lipped on Commodore, Cruze names

Name calling: Holden says it is still to decide the make up of its Commodore and Cruze replacement ranges, including the names.

Chance that Holden might drop Commodore, Cruze badges on import replacements

19 Jun 2014

HOLDEN is offering no guarantees that the nameplates of its two most popular cars, the Commodore and Cruze, will be retained when it switches from local production to imports after 2017.

While the company is on the record as saying it will still have a large family car and small car in its line-up after it shutters its Elizabeth manufacturing plant in South Australia, it is not saying what these vehicles will be, what they will be called and from where they will be imported.

But fans of the Commodore should not lose heart just yet – Holden also has not ruled out a replacement rear-drive car in its future all-import line-up, despite speculation from some quarters that the Commodore will be axed in favour of something such as the front-wheel-drive Chevrolet Impala.

Asked this week if Holden was concerned that it might lose a large slice of its loyal buyer base by replacing the Commodore with a large front-drive car, Holden sales and marketing executive director Philip Brook, said: “You are assuming that (front drive) is the make-up of the product. We haven't spoken about that yet.” Mr Brook said decisions on names and specifications for the new models would be worked out over the next two years.

“There's a lot of things to be thought through and a few questions to be answered,” he said. “We are pretty comfortable with the portfolio as it has been framed up, but it is still evolving.

“Detail of the exact line-up and the naming will be decided over the next couple of years.” Mr Brook said the large-car segment was one of Holden's strengths, and it would continue to focus on it.

The most likely source of the Commodore replacement is Chevrolet in North America, perhaps on a revised version of the Holden-developed rear-drive Zeta platform.

This vehicle could replace not only the Commodore but also the current US export version, the Chevrolet SS, giving General Motors a chance to cost-effectively ramp up volumes of the sports sedan and its Caprice police car in its North American domestic market.

Whichever car replaces the Commodore, it seems certain that Holden's scaled back engineering force at its Lang Lang proving ground will play a role on the localisation of the vehicle for Australia's right-hand drive market.

Holden's Commodore is already moving up-market in the eyes of buyers, with sales of premium and V8 variants soaring since the launch of the latest VF model last year.

This will help Holden to position the new import as a prestige sports model, sitting above its mainstream Malibu, in much the same way as Chevrolet positions the SS.

A replacement for the Australian-made Cruze small sedan and hatch might again come from South Korea, with GM Korea CEO Sergio Rocha talking up the chances of increasing his company's exports to Australia as a way of making up volume lost from GM's decision to pull Chevrolet out of Europe, He told US publication Autonews that the decline in Europe exports would be be roughly equal to the volume that’s needed in Australia when Holden production ends.

“It’s a very serious option that we are working on,” Mr Rocha was reported as saying. “We already export to Australia today. We can further boost the volume.” Another alternative source of small cars for Holden could be Thailand, where GM is planning to establish a new small-car factory.

GM president Mary Barra recently inked a deal with the Thai government on subsidies to support the project to build a fuel-efficient car operation there.

Asked about the potential for Thai small-car imports for Holden, Mr Brook told GoAuto that Thailand was one potential source of cars that Holden would consider, adding that Holden had to consider its competitive position.

Holden's competitors increasingly are importing cars from Thailand, with arch rival Toyota recently adding a Thai-built Corolla sedan to its armoury.

Holden has long imported its Colorado ute (nee Rodeo) from Thailand, with few apparent quality issues. In recent times, it also has added the SUV version, Colorado 7.

GM's Thai factory is expected to start operations with a super fuel-efficient small car – perhaps a next generation Barina Spark – to meet the conditions laid down by the Thai government for its subsidies, but it can add any other model it wants.

A Cruze replacement – perhaps an Astra engineered for global consumption – might fit the bill, especially for Holden.

Holden will reintroduce the Astra nameplate next year when it brings back the three-door Astra GTC sports coupe.

No conventional five-door Astra hatch is on the Holden import agenda from its Opel/Vauxhall partner in Europe, at least in the short term.

Mr Brook pledged that whatever happens, both Commodore and Cruze will remain in production at Elizabeth until the scheduled closing date in 2017.

“We have been working very hard to make sure of that,” he said.

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