Holden looks set to follow the lead of Ford and give grieving fans an iconic V8 muscle car to ease the pain of its 2017 factory closure. Ford will introduce a Mustang just as the last Falcon is about to roll off the Broadmeadows production line and it now seems General Motors is hatching a similar plan by introducing the Camaro just as the Commodore comes to an end.
The former boss of Holden, Mark Reuss, who is now in charge of all global vehicles at General Motors, told Australian media on the eve of the Detroit motor show: “On all our products going forward we’re going to try and do right-hand-drive.”
Mr Reuss would not speculate which cars in the Chevrolet line-up would make it to Australia, but vehicles that are built in left-hand-drive only for now include the iconic Camaro and Corvette sports cars, and the range of Chevrolet full-size pick-ups and SUVs.
Holden has been thrashed in the pick-up sales race by the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton. The arrival of the iconic Chevrolet pick-ups would help Holden claw back some ground. Demand for US-only utes in Australia is so strong that a number of local businesses have been converting them to right-hand-drive and selling them for in excess of $100,000. In the US, their prices start at less than $30,000.
Holden was close to getting a right-hand-drive version of the current Camaro until the Global Financial Crisis crushed those plans. The preliminary engineering work on the Camaro was even done by Holden in Australia. But Holden fans shouldn’t get too excited about every vehicle in the Chevrolet range being available in Australia.
At the same function last year, the then boss of General Motors, Dan Akerson, told News Corp Australia that the new Corvette would be made in right-hand-drive for the first time in 50 years. But less than 24 hours later the company made a U-turn on the comments, with GM’s second-in-charge Tim Lee telling News Corp Australia: “I have no idea what [General Motors CEO Dan Akerson] said but we have no plan to put a right-hand-drive under that bonnet. The Corvette is a Chevrolet, it’s not a Holden, it never will be, next question.”
When pressed on how the boss of the company could get such a key fact wrong during a media presentation, Mr Lee said: “We can spend the entire 20 minutes talking about this. This is a non-story from my point of view. You can write what you want to write, I really don’t give a shit. But it is not in the mainstream plan.”
Last night Mr Reuss was asked to clarify his right-hand-drive comments and he repeated: “Everything from now on we’re trying to do right-hand-drive.” General Motors made the same decree in the lead-up to the Global Financial Crisis and the plans were scrapped. But the company has more support this time around.
News Corp Australia understands that Mr Reuss, having been a boss of Holden, understands the frustration of a limited model line-up. General Motors’ new boss of International Operations, former Volkswagen and Volvo executive Stefan Jacoby, is also understood to have been surprised by Holden’s inability to get highly desirable US-only models. Out-going Holden boss Mike Devereux, whose replacement is yet to be named, has also been pushing for more right-hand-drive models be made available in Australia.
With high-level support at three key stages of General Motors’ management, Holden has its best chance yet of getting sought after US cars. However a Holden spokesman said the plans for any right-hand-drive versions of US models were yet to be approved, and would then need to undergo a feasibility study.
Meanwhile, the shutdown of Holden’s factory in 2017 is almost certain to change the face of the Commodore of the future. Originally, when the model was to be made locally, the 2018 Commodore was going to share its design with a Chinese-built Buick.
But News Corp Australia understands Holden now has three options on the table: the Chinese Buick design, or it can take the Chevrolet or Opel equivalents of the new large sedan. This means the next Commodore could be made in China, Europe or North America, with which Australia has a Free Trade Agreement.
The future Commodore will still switch to front-wheel-drive (after 65 years of large rear-wheel-drive Holden sedans) but executives in Australia are reportedly fighting to make a V6 available as an option to avoid a buyer backlash. Initially, the next Commodore was going to be four-cylinder-only proposition. One thing is for certain. There will be no V8 or ute version of the new generation Commodore.