Holden VF Commodore launch autopsy

10 February 2013
, CarsGuide

When Holden pulls the covers off the new VF Commodore at 10.45 today it will mark the beginning of the end of one era – and open the door to another. It will be the last Commodore as we know it: a big, hearty, rear-wheel-drive sedan with performance credentials to take on the world’s best. In terms of metal for the money, nothing comes close.

But phasing out the VF Commodore in 2016 does not spell the end of Holden’s design, engineering and manufacturing talents in Australia. If anything, life after the Commodore (as we have come to know it) will bring Holden more closely in line with their global General Motors counterparts.

It means Holden in Australia will be building globally-relevant vehicles that can take advantage of world-class technology – securing design, engineering and manufacturing jobs until at least 2022.

The boss of Holden Mike Devereux shocked reporters – and his senior executive team – when on a spur of the moment he said on Friday that the Commodore name would live on beyond the 2016 horizon of the current car.

Devereux said this to finally put an end misguided speculation about Holden building an SUV, and to convey to Australians that Holden is here to stay – after his ‘Commodore to go in 2016’ comments in Detroit caused an almighty stir and the media began reporting that the next Commodore will be the last.

For the record, I don’t think Holden should put a Commodore badge on the car it builds alongside the Cruze in 2017. I don’t think Australians would let the company glue such an iconic badge onto a four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive car similar in size (and pizzazz) to a Toyota Camry.

Holden insiders argue that the Commodore’s switch to front-drive is inevitable and that naysayers need to “get over it”. Chevrolet went through the same heartache when the iconic Impala sedan (Chevrolet’s equivalent to the Commodore) switched to front-wheel-drive in the year 2000 – after 34 years as a rear-drive car.

But those inside Holden who want to call the 2017 front-drive sedan a “Commodore” seem to forget that senior General Motors executives in Detroit regretted letting go of rear-drive cars. It’s one of the key reasons GM in North America is so quick to embrace the Commodore again at the end of this year.

I remember the likes of Rick Wagoner and Bob Lutz – two of GM’s most senior executives – being thankful that Australia had ‘kept the faith’ with rear-drive cars while America switched to front-wheel-drive for its big sedans.

So congratulations to Holden for finally indicating what the secret second model will be alongside the Cruze from 2017 to 2022 – but I wouldn’t be placing bets on the Commodore name sticking.

Holden boss Mike Devereux said emphatically yesterday “there is no debate” about the name. But I’ve heard senior levels of the company are still split 50:50 on the naming issue.

GM typically rotates its leaders every three years or so. Mr Devereux marks his third anniversary as the boss of Holden next month, but he says he is around for five years – to 2015 – so his kids can finish school here.

So by the time the 2017 “Commodore” arrives, Mr Devereux will have likely been promoted to another senior position in the General Motors world, just as his predecessors have.

Closer to 2017, Holden could quite easily say it changed its mind about using the “Commodore” badge on the front-drive replacement for the VF after getting “customer feedback”.

In other words, what Mr Devereux said yesterday was designed to give the VF Commodore its best shot by trying to extinguish the “Commodore is dead” headlines.

So don’t bet your house just yet that the Commodore badge will appear on a homegrown, locally-made car after this one. There may be no debate in Mr Devereux’s mind, but there is plenty of dissention inside Holden.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling