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After a tough few years of closures, calamities and sales slumps, Holden has finally been given some good news by its parent company - no doubt delivered with a comforting arm around the shoulders - as General Motors has told its Australian bosses they are allowed to raid the candy store.
Holden managing director Dave Buttner was recently given an enlightening and enlivening tour of GM’s headquarters and assured that his company will gain access to all of General Motors US brands, including Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick.
The timing is particularly handy because his company’s needs may be great if the supply of Opels that it can rebadge as Holdens dries up, as expected. The formerly GM-owned European carmaker, Opel, has been sold to PSA Group (makers of Citroens and Peugeots) and as a result, Buttner has hinted that the proud Aussie brand could shift to a fully American-based model line-up over the next five years.
Clearly, Buttner was impressed by the work of his US colleagues, and their willingness to put right-hand drive (RHD) variants in their forward plans. “I was quite buoyed with what I saw when I was up there and the positivity towards Australia, and the strong desire to provide product to make a success in the future,” he said.
“That really excited me... and to go there to see what’s happening and the world of research and development and design, it just made me think: ‘Yep, we’re on the right track.’”
So, which big ol’ US trucks and Yanki-fied sedans might be providing the underpinnings, and even indeed the badges, for the cars that are needed to keep Holden afloat locally over the next few years? It is a candy shop of options, at least in theory, so let’s have a look inside, shall we?
This one is very much in the nice-to-have, wish-list section, but it would certainly, in the political parlance, energise the base for Holden. The only question being whether that base still exists, because Commodore sales have not been polling well for some time. Nor do the sales figures of the only realistic option in that segment now, the Kia Stinger, suggest that demand for large family sedans with rear-wheel drive is about to surge back into existence any time soon.
For those who’d like to believe we could have a 'proper' Commodore again (rather than a front-wheel drive Opel-based car that wears the badge), it is at least theoretically possible that a Cadillac CT6 (or its replacement) could be built in RHD and sold here, perhaps using a small-displacement V8 much like the 4.2-litre, 410kW one GM recently unveiled, and which was developed for rear-drive use right here in Australia, in a secret skunk works at Lang Lang.
Cadillac is, of course, a high-end brand in the US, which would mean any new Commodore would come with not just a high-powered V8 option, but all kinds of high-tech tricks, as you’d expect from a car that sells against the top Germans. The problem there, being, of course, that such a Commodore replacement would likely end up being far too expensive to sell in any numbers here in Australia.
The other, bigger problem is that GM is not run by Elon Musk-type fantasy fulfillers but hard-nosed businessmen, and the business case for such a car is hard to make, because it’s too big to sell in Europe, so where, and why, would they build it? RHD development is a little too large and expensive a risk just to make some passionate Aussie customers’ dreams come true.
Every now and then we do see Cadillacs being tested on our roads, though, and rumours of the brand launching locally do roll around regularly. Past marketing types have touted the “we will turn Cadillac into a global brand” line, and insisted there are plans for RHD cars in the future.
Perhaps a Cadillac replacement for the Holden Statesman might be more likely.
Aside from the well-heeled early adopters in their Teslas, Australia hasn’t exactly leapt on to the EV bandwagon at any great speed, and nor is our current Government following European leaders by encouraging people to buy them, in an effort to reduce CO2 and particulate pollution, but a change of policy, or government, could quickly change that.
Wise car companies will be well prepared for such a shift, and Nissan is already heavily backing its city EV, the Leaf, while Renault offers its zesty Zoe. The Bolt and Volt, badged as Chevrolets in the US, have been spotted at Holden’s Fisherman’s Bend facility in Melbourne, and would give the Australian company potentially two different-sized EVs, with the Bolt a city zip around and the Volt a small family car.
With Europe very much favouring an EV future, it seems certain that all future EV products from GM in the US will be developed in RHD, meaning all of them will be plausible options for Holden in Australia, depending on market demand.
While it must be hugely disappointing for Holden that it can’t get its hands on the new Chevy Blazer, a large (or mid-size if you’re American), five-seat SUV that would land smack bang in the middle of a real sales sweet spot if it would be sold locally, you can bet the company is begging for RHD versions down the line.
Sadly, Holden didn’t get in early enough with a request for the Blazer, so it will be LHD for now. Even more upsettingly, it looks really quite fabulous, which is not something you can say about all American-designed vehicles.
Lodging in between the Equinox and the Traverse (nee GMC/Holden Acadia) in the US line-up, the Blazer’s styling is inspired by the fabulous Camaro and it is very much a road-skewed crossover. Holden must want this thing desperately, but getting the steering wheel on the correct side is a huge barrier, at least for a few years.
There was a time when we pointed and laughed at Americans and their obsession with pick-up trucks, but that time was long ago, and we now love this practical, muscular style of vehicle with a passion.
And that means Holden will absolutely, definitely be wanting the US to build it a Chevrolet Colorado pick-up, not just because Australians would probably prefer their trucks to be built in the US rather than Thailand, but because the US and Thai-built versions are tipped to become one vehicle from around 2020 or 2021.
Those future versions of Colorado, which will probably keep the name, are likely to look chunkier and more American, more like the giant Chevy Silverado, in fact.
That giant, properly US-sized truck is also very much on the wish list for Holden because there’s a belief that Australians will go even bigger with their truck buying, if the price is right. Similarly, Ford would love to be selling the F Series here as well, and it seems like GM, Chrysler (with Dodge and RAM) and Ford are all watching each other, waiting to see who will jump first with selling giant trucks in RHD, and if it works, they’ll all jump in. Probably.
The Colorado replacement will be hugely important to Holden’s future in Australia and will be a key seller.
How much bigger might we go, is the question, because if our appetites continue to grow, Holden might well be going after some properly giant SUVs from America’s GMC brand, including such stately nameplates as the Yukon and Tahoe.
Holden desperately needs a new Cruze, or similar, to replace the much-loved, or at least very old, nameplate Astra, which it will lose with the end of the Opel deal. The problem being that the Cruze, and cars of that size, is an endangered species in the US.
Outside the rental market, demand for a Cruze-sized car in America is limp to say the least so Australia can only hope that GM can still find a business case for such a vehicle in the future. Fortunately it shares a platform with the Chevy Volt, which gives it some hope.
We also hear that any replacement would most likely spring off one of GM’s upcoming Vehicle Set Strategy (VSS) platforms – a scalable and modular architecture that looks to underpin all passenger, crossover, SUV and even truck models moving into the next decade.
Watch this space.
Yes, this is a no-brainer. Whatever happens with these two fabulous American sports cars in the future - and the new, mid-engined C8 Corvette we’ll be getting looks like a belter - Holden will be wanting, and needing, to sell them here, providing two halo models to shine some excitement on the brand.
It’s interesting that Holden boss Buttner has refused to say whether Buick or Cadillac will provide any of the cars his company will sell in Australia. While Cadillac could, as we said above, launch locally as an up-market version of Holden, it is an idea that’s been proposed many times before, and it very nearly happened a decade ago, before being soothed by the GFC.
Buick, however, is not a nameplate that means much to Australians under the age of 80, nor does anything in its line-up leap out as something that would succeed here.
More upmarket than GM, but not quite as luxurious as Cadillac, Buick is a bit like the brand that falls between two chairs, and we can’t see much demand for something as unexciting as the Buick Lacrosse here.
Perhaps some of the options should just be left in the candy shop, for now.