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New details on the German Holden Commodore

The current 2014 Opel Insignia. The next Commodore will be based on its replacement.

Australian heads new Holden Commodore development in Germany as Opel confirms more than a third of Holdens will come from Europe.

The Holden Commodore of the future will have an Australian accent even though it will be made in Germany.

News Corp Australia can exclusively reveal one of Holden’s most senior engineers has been based in Germany on a top-secret assignment for the past four years working on the car that will become the next Commodore.

Marinos Panayiotou, who worked at Holden from 2001, has been based at Opel in Germany since 2010 as the Lead Program Manager.

In car industry terms this means he is the person in charge of taking a vehicle from a design sketch to production.

Despite the posting to Germany almost four years ago, Holden insiders insist the company had no plans at that stage to end local production of the Commodore.

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Holden would not confirm Mr Panayiotou’s German assignment, but his profile on business networking website LinkedIn shows he has been based at Opel since November 2010.

Whether or not it was deliberate move, Mr Panayiotou’s appointment has placed Holden in an ideal position to ensure General Motors’ new global sedan meets the needs of Australian buyers.

News Corp Australia can also reveal Mr Panayiotou will soon return home to oversee the transition from the homegrown Commodore to the German-made version as the head of product planning at Holden.

As reported exclusively by News Corp Australia in August, the Commodore of the future will be a rebadged version of Germany’s Opel Insignia sedan, which is also sold as a Buick in China and North America.

Holden was working on the design of the Chinese version of the new sedan until the company announced last December it would end manufacturing in Australia in 2017.

The change of plans means Holden will now take the next generation Opel Insignia from Germany.

The current Opel Insignia went into production in late 2008 and had an update in 2013 ahead of an all-new model due in about two years.

This means Australians will get the first glimpse of the car that will become the new Holden Commodore some time in 2016 ahead of a showroom arrival the following year.

Indeed, buyers will briefly have a choice of two Holden Commodores when the all-new model goes on sale.

The imported Commodore will likely be sold alongside the locally-made model for a short time as local manufacturing winds down in the second half of 2017.

At the Paris motor show last week General Motors executives were tight-lipped about the next Commodore.

However, the boss of Opel in Germany, Dr Karl-Thomas Neumann, all but confirmed the next Commodore would come from Germany when he told Australian media Holden will source “about one-third” of its cars from Europe in future.

“The Australian market and the Holden brand is important to General Motors,” said Dr Neumann. “It will be the responsibility of Opel to supply certain cars for Australia.”

Holden has already confirmed certain models from the Astra range, as well as the current generation Insignia sedan and Cascada convertible are coming next year. Other Opel models such as Corsa city car are expected to follow.

“(Opel cars) will be about one third of the portfolio of Holden; it is an important export business for us,” said Dr Neumann, adding that Holden was part of Opel’s plan to return to profitability by the end of the decade.

While the new German-made Commodore may be a world-class car, there will be no V8, no ute and it will not be rear-wheel-drive, a characteristic that has made the Commodore fun to drive for its entire 36-year history.

Instead, the new Commodore will be front-wheel-drive like a Toyota Camry, have a choice of four-cylinder or V6 power, and be available only as a sedan and wagon.

The story so far on the new Holden Commodore

Why is the next Holden Commodore coming from Germany?
Because Opel already builds more cars there and can export them more profitably. Opel has made 687,000 Insignia sedans and wagons since December 2008 and exported them to China, North America, the rest of Europe and parts of Asia. Over the same period Holden has sold 218,000 Commodores in Australia.

Why is there no V8 in the new Commodore?
Because it is front-wheel-drive, and strict European emissions mean that engines are downsizing. Most V8s are being replaced by V6 engines, and V6s are in turn being replaced by four-cylinders.

Why is there no ute version of the new Commodore?
Because “car-derived” utes such as the Commodore and Falcon are a dying breed; the market has shifted to dual-cab “body-on-frame” pick-ups such as the Toyota HiLux. The pick-up category is now the third largest segment of the market behind small cars and SUVs.

Will Holden call the new car a Commodore?
For now, Holden says the new car will be called a Commodore. But insiders say opinion within the company is still divided. Diehard fans believe the new car has changed so much that it should not be called a Commodore and the name should be retired (just as Ford will retire the Falcon nameplate). Others want to cash-in on the Commodore name because it’s better known among private and fleet buyers.

What will happen to Holden Commodores in V8 Supercars?
No change. New rules mean that car makers can run a sedan body in V8 Supercars even if there is no V8 available in showrooms -- like Volvo and Nissan in this year’s series. Holden could in theory still run the new German ‘Commodore’ in V8 Supercars even though the showroom versions only have four-cylinder or V6 power.