Holden’s lost heroes

Exciting vision for the General’s future now merely part of local manufacturing’s epitaph w ph

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS & ANDY ENRIGHT

AUSTRALIANS might be parking a sexy homegrown Holden-badged Monaro coupe, a coupe-styled ute or even a Commodore-based SUV in their driveways if it wasn’t for poor economic and market circumstances since 2008.

Wheels can reveal that three separate projects – a production version of the Coupe 60, a longand- low El Camino-style ute, and a Ford Territory-rivalling seven-seat Nullarbor SUV – were quietly shelved in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis as Holden’s parent company, General Motors, desperately struggled to avoid plunging into bankruptcy.

GM’s global vice-president of design, Michael Simcoe, revealed to Wheels that even more spin-offs from the Zeta platform that underpins the VF Commodore were in various stages of planning.

“I remember sedan, coupe, Caprice, ute, SUV AWD, low and high crew-cab … there were probably more,” Simcoe said.

“The point of the coupe and the coupe ute was the sharing of the long door and glass to save investment, but from our design standpoint it made the ute much more sleek and low, with frameless glass allowing a single door and a simple profile change to the edge of the glass to suit two different roof shapes.

“For the coupe it meant frameless, and therefore a slimmer, more open upper.”

According to Simcoe, the SUV was to replace the previousgeneration Commodore wagonbased Adventra. “A higher SUV was moving, the traditional Simcoe’s that SUVs traditional buyers’ why its Sportswagon shortwheelbase platform, the longer Statesman/Caprice platform used for older versions of the family load-lugger.

The Commodore-based coupe and its ute derivative made where the market was ng, and it would also replace aditional wagon,” he said. mcoe’s observation UVs were substituting ional station wagons in s’ driveways also explains Holden elected to base ortswagon on the shortbase sedan platform not

it through to full-size clay model mock-ups, showing the development program was well advanced before it was shelved.

Borrowing cues from the firstgeneration BMW X5, Holden’s Commodore-based SUV took shape under current Holden design manager Ondrej Koromhaz.

Mirroring the model range of rival Ford and its strong-selling, Falcon-based Ford Territory, the Nullarbor would have offered

rear- and all-wheel-drive options, with engine choices reaching to the locally made 3.6-litre V6 and a Chevrolet-sourced V8.

A diesel option, using a VM Motori-sourced V6, was deemed too expensive and ruled out.

Holden had high hopes for the front-engined, rear-drive architecture underpinning the Commodore, even showing a video at the 2006 launch of the VE that flashed up silhouettes of potential spin-offs, ranging from convertibles to sports cars, and more.

Apart from the locally made Commodore-based range, the only other production car to use the Zeta platform globally was the Australian-designed and engineered fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro that launched in the US as a 2010 model and ended production in November last year.

Holden did have one more shot at a spin-off. In 2008, it staged the US reveal of a GMC Denali, a Holden Crewman-inspired monocoque four-door pick-up with brash lines, a seriously slammed Hummer-style glasshouse and a small tub, all of which was meant to take the GM-owned truck brand more upmarket.

It was never to be. According to Simcoe, the Zeta program that spawned the VE Commodore was “a huge cost” to Holden in terms of investment and resources.

“Did we make the wrong choice [in terms of product development]?” Simcoe mulls.

“That’s debatable. Perhaps people were moving away from large sedans, but the truth is we didn’t have enough other good cars in our portfolio.

“In hindsight, my desire would have been the coupe and coupe ute. If I was being more rational, the SUV and the Crewman would have been great as well.”

Coupe stopped at the G8

Could a fastback coupe and a longdoor ute have given Holden vital US sales volume that could have avoided the carmaker’s decision to quit manufacturing here in Australia by late 2017?

Probably not, but Mike Simcoe provides an insight into why things went wrong in relation to the Pontiac-badged Commodore sold in the US as a G8 (2008-09), following the GTO-badged Monaro (2004-06).

“When I first went to Detroit in 2004, I had a studio that used the VE coupe as the base for another go at the G8,” he said.

“The obvious problems were GTO was too iconic a badge to place on the Monaro, and foreign exchange [the Australian dollar was to eventually have parity with the US dollar] did not help the G8.

“As good as the G8 was, it was too expensive and was impacted by poor opinion of the Pontiac brand.”