Holden’s Yank tank attack

American SUVs to spearhead Holden’s fresh SUV assault

TOBY HAGON

HOLDEN’S SUV strategy has crystalised with confirmation the GMC Acadia will arrive here from the United States in 2018 wearing a Holden badge.

The large seven-seater will take on class kings such as the Toyota Kluger, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.

Like those cars, Acadia is built on car-based underpinnings with an emphasis on the suburbs rather than the scrub. But it will come with a four-wheel-drive system for added traction and occasional jaunts to the mountain or bush.

The made-for-America wagon will also form a crucial pillar in Holden’s strategy to claw back ground lost by the Commodore over the past decade as families switched their allegiances to SUVs and away from the large cars that once filled suburban driveways.

Holden chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard describes the SUV strategy as critical, admitting it is key to recovering from record low sales.

First-half figures show Holden is in danger of finishing fourth in the 2016 sales race, behind Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai. Holden has never previously finished outside the top three.

“SUVs are the fastest-growing segment of the market and we’re currently under-represented, but that’s changing, fast,” Bernhard said, pointing to the Trailblazer and updated Trax.

Key to Holden’s future SUV mix will be a long overdue replacement for the Captiva, which had its lifespan extended as a result of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. But don’t expect to see the Captiva name again; Holden is set to shelve it and introduce another name for what’s expected to provide more serious competition for the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan X-Trail.

For now, Holden is focusing on Acadia, which is expected to kick off from about $40,000.

The second-generation Acadia made its debut at the Detroit motor show in January this year and went on sale in the US in May as a 2017 model. It is produced in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

Grafting the Holden badge onto the nose clearly created challenges; to match the shape of the GMC badge it replaces, designers created a rectangular backdrop.

Perhaps crucially, Acadia will also forego the intensive 100,000km-plus local development program that improved the Trailblazer, instead relying on the basic suspension tune of the American model.

The only Acadia engine confirmed to date is the directinjection 3.6-litre V6 that also appears in the Commodore. It produces about 210kW and 350Nm.

But given the focus on fuel consumption in large SUVs, Holden is expected to sniff out the potential of a diesel, too.

Bernhard was cagey when quizzed on the topic, saying only: “Never say never.”

Bad precedent

Acadia is not the first time Holden has turned to America for a 4WD model. From 1998 to 2000 the company imported the Chevrolet Suburban and rebadged it as a Holden to tackle the dominant Toyota LandCruiser. The underdone V8-powered behemoth was a flop, managing just 746 sales in three years. Over the same period Toyota flogged almost 40,000 LandCruisers.

Keeping the lion

Holden is emphatic it will not ditch the Holden nameplate for GM’s global Chevrolet brand when local manufacturing ceases late next year.

But that hasn’t stopped an American infiltration of model names. Trailblazer was the first, with Acadia set to follow. And Equinox – another Chevrolet name – is the smart money for the Captiva replacement.

And, of course, there’s the Corvette, a car you could never change the name of.

Holden has also registered Graphyte, which could be the brand’s upcoming small SUV.

Making fresh Trax

Holden has committed to a heavily updated version of the Barina-based Trax off-roader that first surfaced in 2013.

The new car gets a heavily redesigned nose with a Chevrolet-inspired grille, but inside is where big changes have freshened the look most markedly. The dash has taken on more curves and higher-quality plastics, while the MyLink infotainment system adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Holden will ditch the 1.8-litre engine and instead focus on the torquier 1.4 turbo.