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The 10 cars that could save Holden

THE new boss of Holden has boldly claimed the company will be Australia's top-selling car brand by the year 2020 -- just three years after shutting its factories. Holden hasn't been number one for 11 years, has just posted a 20-year low, and currently sells a little more than half the number of cars as market leader Toyota.

Despite this, Holden boss Gerry Dorizas has bravely set his targets high barely five weeks into the new job. It seems like a tall order when the claims are judged against Holden's current model line-up.

But behind the scenes the company is searching every corner of the globe to bolster its showrooms once Holden doesn't have a car factory to protect beyond 2017. That means all bets are off and Holden executives are going through the entire General Motors catalogue to fill every possible niche to win back buyers who've defected to other brands.

Some of the cars listed here may seem fanciful based on Holden's recent history. But make no mistake, anything is possible in Holden's new era.

As with all car makers, Holden refuses to discuss its future model plans and these cars are by no means confirmed. But this list has been compiled with some inside knowledge and a review of how Holden has done business in happier times, such as the late 1990s and early 2000s when European and US models helped drive it to Number One.

Here are the 10 cars that could power Holden to the top of the market over the next six years.

1. Camaro

You read it here first: Holden executives told dealers in a secret meeting late last year it's hopeful of getting the next generation Chevrolet Camaro in local showrooms by 2018, just after the homegrown Commodore fades from view.

Normally such hot news would be kept under wraps, but Holden was trying to give dealers a confidence boost after announcing the 2017 factory closure.

A right-hand-drive version of the current Chevrolet Camaro was under development when it was axed in 2009, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

Now that Ford has confirmed the Mustang is coming to Australia (due in late 2015) Holden is believed to be fighting hard for a right-hand-drive Chevrolet Camaro to meet its rival head-on.

And the iconic Corvette? Former General Motors CEO, Dan Akerson, told Carsguide in January 2013 a right-hand-drive version was coming -- only to be corrected by his second-in-command Tim Lee less than 24 hours later.

It's unlikely there will be a right-hand-drive version of this generation Corvette, but the head of General Motors global product development, Mark Reuss, a former Holden boss, told Carsguide in January 2014 he wants right-hand-drive versions of all Chevrolet vehicles in the future.

2. Cascada convertible

In the same top-secret meeting Holden dealers were told about the Camaro, they were also told the Opel Cascada convertible will be coming to Holden showrooms by year's end.

The Cascada -- Spanish for rain or waterfall, unusual for a convertible given that they're about sunshine, except when they leak -- was supposed to be introduced as an Opel before General Motors pulled the German brand from sale locally last year, less than 12 months after it launched. 

All Holden needs to do is fit Holden badges, get cars to dealers and starting printing brochures.

The Cascada is the spiritual successor to the Astra convertible, which Holden sold across two generations from 2001 to 2010.

Holden is yet to decide whether the convertible will wear the Cascada badge or if Holden will use the Astra name for the convertible.

Holden dealers have told Carsguide they would prefer the Astra badge because of its recognition, but Holden executives have been referring to the car by its Opel name in preliminary meetings.

3. Astra hatch

The Holden Astra is going to return to showrooms, it's just a matter of when. At the moment, Holden doesn't want to dent sales of the locally-made Cruze but the Astra is on stand-by, ready to go.

Holden dealers had to clear the unsold Astra stock once the Opel brand was withdrawn from Australia, so the network has already handled the new model.

The three-door and five-door hatch versions of the Astra are likely starters, but the Astra sedan will probably be left behind, leaving the next generation Cruze sedan to fill the void.

4. Cruze sedan

Holden will import the next generation Cruze sedan once the locally-made model goes out of production. It will opt for the Cruze sedan (over the Astra sedan) because it will give Holden a strategic price step through the small-car range.

The Cruze sedan will likely be the price-leader at close to $20,000 while the Astra hatch will likely be priced closer to fellow European, the Volkswagen Golf, at about $23,000.

General Motors is yet to commit to a new version of the Cruze wagon.

Although the current Holden Cruze wagon is well priced and regarded as a sound vehicle, it is selling in small numbers, with buyers favouring SUVs.

5. Trax facelift

The recently-released Holden Trax compact SUV is well-equipped and sharply priced but hasn't proved popular with buyers.

It seems not everyone is a fan of its cutesy Dumbo Elephant looks. But a fix is a phone call away.

The Trax's twin, the Opel Mokka, was due to go on sale locally until the brand was withdrawn late last year.

The Mokka has a more European design inside and out even though it comes from the same South Korean factory as the Trax.

Holden could simply fit Trax badges to the better-looking model on a “facelift” for a sales boost.

6. Barina

As one of the best-priced and roomiest cars in its class, the current-generation Barina is another Holden that deserves to be selling better.

But it is heavy and thirsty compared to the class leaders. And while the attractively designed interior looks good in brochures, the plastics are hard to the touch and feel cheap once you're behind the wheel.

The next Barina will likely continue to come from South Korea (rather than sourcing the European Opel Corsa) because it will enable Holden to keep prices low.

Better quality plastics will improve the interior's appeal, while a more efficient engine and a lighter body will improve fuel economy, giving the next Barina a better chance in the cut-throat light-car class.

7. Captiva SUV

An all-new Captiva SUV can't come soon enough. Most cars have a model cycle of five-to-six years. The Captiva is entering its ninth year on sale and a new-from-the-ground-up model is still about two years away.

The current Captiva is selling well because it is the cheapest ticket into a seven-seat full-size SUV. But the new model will have to step up to newer competition, especially if it loses its current $10,000 price advantage.

The other key to the Captiva's success is the two-model strategy: a slightly smaller five-seater and a slightly bigger seven-seater.

Holden would like to continue with two models given the SUV market is still booming, but General Motors is likely to consolidate to one model globally.

The Captiva is critical to Holden's 2020 Number One target: it accounts for almost one-third of sales and is currently the biggest selling model behind the Commodore and the Cruze.

8. Next Commodore

Holden has scrapped plans to share the next generation, front-wheel-drive Commodore with a Chinese Buick.

Now that the Commodore (or whatever Holden chooses to call its next large sedan) is no longer going to be built locally, Holden has the luxury of choosing between the Buick, Chevrolet or Opel versions of the same car.

Expect four-cylinder and V6 power for the front-drive sedan, but there will no longer be a Commodore V8, wagon or ute.

The Camaro is expected to fill the V8 void, while Commodore wagon customers will either downsize to a Cruze or step up to a Captiva SUV. Commodore ute buyers will have to learn to love the Colorado.

9. Colorado ute

The Holden Colorado is travelling ok but it's still not selling as well as the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton. That means there is still plenty of sales potential.

The Colorado is being held back at the moment because it doesn't drive as well as its peers and the cabin isn't as user-friendly or as upmarket as the newer competition.

It also doesn't look like a tough truck. Making it drive better will take some chassis tuning, but making it look tougher is not as hard as it sounds.

General Motors in North America redesigned the nose for the Chevrolet version of the 2015 Colorado, to make it look like a full-size pick-up. And guess what? The parts clip straight on to the Holden Colorado. Simples.

10. Tahoe/Silverado

Holden has been trying to get right-hand-drive versions of General Motors' full-size SUVs and pick-ups from the US for more than a decade. Since, in fact, the Chevrolet Suburban was discontinued after being sold here between 1998 and 2001.

Back then, when the Australian dollar was weaker than it is today, the “Holden” Suburban sold for between $64,000 and $87,000.

At today's exchange rates, the prices for the Tahoe SUV and Silverado pick-up would likely be between $50,000 and $75,000 -- smack bang in the middle of Toyota Prado and Toyota LandCruiser territory, which last year accounted for more than 10 per cent of Toyota's sales.

General Motors is yet to confirm right-hand-drive versions of its full-size pick-ups and SUVs -- but former Holden boss Mark Reuss, now the head of GM's global product development, told Carsguide in January this year he wants right-hand-drive versions of all future models.

If they became available, Holden would grab them with both hands.

What about HSV?

Holden's performance-car division will continue to build the Clubsport sedan and wagon, Maloo ute, Grange limousine and GTS super-sedan until the very end of Commodore production in October 2017.

Carsguide understands it may even stockpile enough cars to run into 2018 because once these homegrown heroes go, there will be no more.

In the meantime, HSV is looking to broaden its model range. Don't be surprised to see the high performance Opel Astra OPC hot hatch and Opel Insignia OPC sedan and wagon appear in Holden showrooms wearing HSV badges.

HSV has sold Opel's high performance Astra before and the Astra hatch and Insignia were sold here last year as Opels before the brand was withdrawn from sale.

That means they've been approved for Australian Design Rules and there is already parts availability. All that's missing are the HSV badges.

Friends in high places

Holden boss Gerry Dorizas believes Holden will get more support now than ever before from its overseas head-quarters.

Former Holden boss Mike Devereux is in charge of sales for the Asia-Pacific region, and the man who saved Holden from extinction during the GFC, Mark Reuss, is now in charge of General Motors' global product development.

The new president of General Motors, reporting directly to CEO Mary Barra, is New Zealander Dan Ammann, who grew up around Holdens.

Will Zafira make it?

Opel was poised to introduce the latest Zafira people mover in Australia before the brand was withdrawn suddenly late last year.

Holden is understood to be evaluating whether the Zafira can be priced competitively against the other seven-seater family wagons before introducing it locally.

Holden sold the Zafira in Australia between 2001 and 2006 but was dropped from the line-up as buyers began to favour seven-seat SUVs.

Today, the people-mover category represents just 0.9 per cent of the new-vehicle market.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling

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