The first prototypes of the Holden VF Commodore coming in 2013 are under way and will soon be entering major test programs at Holden's Lang Lang proving ground.
They are the solid proof that the Commodore has a homegrown future until at least 2018, as the upcoming VF will have a four-year life expectancy when it takes over from today's VE in showrooms around the middle of 2013.
The prototype build program was confirmed yesterday by Holden's chairman and managing director, Mike Devereux, as he went public to counter claims that the locally-made Commodore had no future beyond 2014.
"The 2014 Commodore is designed and engineered here. It is being engineered right now. We started building prototype vehicles in Port Melbourne two days ago," Devereux said.
He was reacting to claims by The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia that its members face major job losses without an ongoing development program for the Commodore. Holden currently employs around 1000 engineers and designers at its headquarters in Fishermans Bend, at the proving ground and its manufacturing base in Adelaide.
However, Devereux and senior Holden executives avoided any answers about a Commodore to follow the VF, highlighting instead the need for research on future sales and technology trends in Australia and overseas - as well as the potential for financial assistance from the Federal government - before making decisions on the next major investment by the brand.
"No, we haven't made a decision on what we will build in Adelaide post our current range and post model-year 2014, I won't speculate on the timing," Devereux said. "What we are going to make hasn't been decided yet. It's still too early."
There is a widespread and well-founded belief that both Holden and Ford will eventually have to switch their local heroes - Commodore and Falcon - to a localised version of a strong selling global model.
Ford is expected to eventually confirm an engineering tie-up with the Taurus model sold in the USA while the history of the Commodore actually started with a General Motors Europe car, the Opel Rekord, which was widened, re-engined and hugely improved by local engineers to become the original VB model in 1978.
Work on the VF Commodore is being concentrated on weight cuts and efficiency gains, thanks in part to a $30 million grant from the defunct Green Car Innovation Fund, which was chopped by Canberra to fund rebuilding after this year's natural disasters in Queensland.
There are no firm ideas yet on styling for the VF Commodore, but Holden design director Tony Stolfo has previously hinted that it could take some cues from the Chevrolet Volt -- which will go on sale here with a Holden badge -- and also the compact Cruze.
The car will be built in Adelaide alongside the Cruze, which is already shaping as a major winner for the red lion brand. The Cruze has been selling strongly since it switched from Korean to Australian sourcing - with considerable local engineering and quality improvements - and is forecast to eventually overtake the Commodore as Holden's top selling model.