Commodore’s end in sight
22 February 2012
The Holden Commodore is set to be replaced in five to six years but *parent company General Motors is upbeat on the prospect of it being succeeded by a “global” car that will secure the future of its local manufacturing operations.
The Shanghai-based president of GM’s international operations, Tim Lee, said that Holden was one of the “iconic car brands” of the world.
“I like the fact that we have *full-line capability in Australia with designing and engineering, building and selling vehicles,” Mr Lee told The Australian Financial Review in an exclusive interview. “We want to maintain that *capacity.”
The GM chief spoke after meeting Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other Labor ministers in *Canberra last week, along with *opposition MPs and business figures. His visit comes ahead of federal cabinet signing off on an industry assistance package, which industry figures have estimated could be around $100 million, to help secure a potential $400 million investment by GM next month.
Mr Lee said the Commodore had been the company’s strongest local seller for many years, but that Holden had to move with the “vehicle requirements and buying patterns of the 21st century”.
“It’s still an outstanding motor vehicle and one that we intend to produce for a long time,” he said. “But if you look at the motorway here in Melbourne, you see a lot of small cars. You see a lot of more fuel-efficient vehicles on the roads than Commodore.”
“The fundamental key in the car- building business is basically how you configure your body shop and if we want to have the opportunity for both domestic and consumption, as well as export potential, we need to build cars in Adelaide that are off the global *platforms of General Motors,” Mr Lee said.
“In the body shop the best way to do that is to have flexibility and to build two architectures and platforms. Maybe a mini car and a small car or maybe a small car and a compact car, or maybe a compact car and mid-sized car.”
The Gillard government has been under pressure to justify further support for the industry, particularly after GM reported a net profit of $US7.6 billion ($7.07 billion) last week.
The opposition is under fire over plans to cut $500 million from Labor’s decade-long $3.4 billion Automotive Transformation Scheme.
While in Melbourne, Mr Lee reviewed prototypes of the new Commodore, which will be released next year. The quietly spoken executive had good news for followers of the large sedan.
“We’re going to build a **** load more great Commodores,” he enthused. “We’re investing a huge amount in the next-generation Commodore.
“We’ve got Commodores that we’re building now and want to sell between now then. We’re not backing down from Commodore at all. It’s a great car.”
The model is expected to have a shelf life of about four to five years.
The key pitch from GM is that countries with car industries either have import tariffs and other barriers – which it is not seeking – or they make “co-investments” with the industry.
Mr Lee said the “new GM” operated differently and that all investments were judged in the “global landscape” after comparing the returns that could be made in other countries.
“If the public policy of Australia understands and comprehends the value of its manufacturing base, like most other major countries do, there are various ways that countries encourage large multinationals to invest,” he said.
The car giants are shifting to global models because it spreads the development costs of new cars across as many vehicles as possible.
The last new-generation Commodore, the VE, took an *estimated $1 billion to develop. GM Holden can’t afford to do that any more given Australia has negligible import tariffs and more than 60 brands are competing in an annual new car market of 1 million vehicles.
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Holden’s new VF Commodore out and about
21 February 2012
Camouflaged next-generation 2014 Holden Commodore test cars have hit the road, with company chairman and managing director Mike Devereux as one of the drivers.
Mr Devereux today told GoAuto that he had recently driven a VF Commodore engineering car – known colloquially as a ‘test mule’ – on Victorian public roads, saying he had been blown away by his first taste of the car outside Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground.
He said the cars were complete VF Commodore prototypes under the camouflage, including the exterior panels, except that some interior finishes had been made up of different surfaces, such as one section in piano black and another in carbon-fibre, for example.
“I think that dynamically, people are going to be surprised by how good the VF is,” he said. “And it looks fantastic.”
Mr Devereux also revealed that an announcement on the future of Holden’s Australian manufacturing operations beyond the VF series was “more likely to be weeks than months” away.
Apart from a new look, the 2014 model will get lightweight components – developed with the aid of a $39.8 million federal government Green Car Innovation Fund grant – to reduce fuel consumption by about seven per cent.
Work on that light-weighting program has been going on in parallel with the overall development of the VF Commodore, which is Holden’s first new large car since the current VE Commodore was launched in 2006.
The VF – which will retain a modified version of the locally developed rear-drive Zeta platform – is expected to be the first Australian-built car to get mass-produced aluminium panels as a result of the $160 million program.
As well, electric-assisted power steering and improved aerodynamics are expected to be in the mix of solutions to cut fuel consumption.
Mr Devereux said his boss, GM vice-president and president of GM International Operations Tim Lee, had been shown the VF on a recent visit to Melbourne.
Although Mr Devereux declined to say exactly when the new model would be launched, he indicated that media speculation that the VF would be a 2014 model was not far from the mark.
That could mean the VF will appear in 2013 – perhaps as early as next year’s Australian International Motor Show in Melbourne in July – and enter production in the third quarter.
The dedicated LPG V6 engine just launched in the current Commodore is expected to be carried over into the new model, meaning even greater fuel economy savings and lower CO2 emissions thanks to the lighter VF body.
While Holden is on the home straight in its VF Commodore program, three-way discussions continue between the federal government, Holden and Holden’s parent company General Motors on proposed government co-investment to secure future Australian production of Holden cars at Elizabeth, in South Australia.
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