Beleaguered brand Holden has been thrown a potential lifeline from its Detroit head office, with access granted to General Motor’s entire future product line-up.
It might pave the way for the return of a rear-wheel-drive sedan… which could even be powered by a V8 engine.
Sales success with the Opel-sourced ZB Commodore has thus far eluded Holden, despite it leading the shrinking large car category with around 670 sales a month.
To give that a little perspective, the medium-sized Toyota Camry sedan – which shares a similar tale to Holden’s switch from local to overseas manufacture – notches nearly twice as many registrations per month as the Commodore.
And, aside from the promising new Acadia, Holden’s product cupboard is looking a bit thin, with the recent demise of the Barina, the soft performance of the vital Equinox mid-sized SUV and the surprising inability of the entirely decent Colorado dual-cab to take on Toyota’s incumbent HiLux and Ford’s dominant Ranger.
But the recent appointment of former Toyota Australia industry stalwart David Buttner – coaxed out of retirement to help Holden – is already netting results, with Mr Buttner reportedly securing an undertaking from Holden’s parent company General Motors that it will widen its consideration of potential right-hand-drive projects going forward.
This is a key victory for Holden, which has been forced to watch GM divest itself of many of its poor-performing outposts, including Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in the UK, as the American giant focuses on growing its market share China and the US.
And while the near future will see the company concentrate on the future of products like the next-generation Colorado (heavily tipped to be sourced from the US, with Australian design influence) and convincing the Americans that the handsome Chevrolet Blazer SUV would be a much more endearing mid-sized competitor than the bland Equinox, there is strong potential for the return of a perennial favourite – if the numbers stack up.
GM’s Cadillac brand has long been touted as a potential addition to the local Holden roster, and the addition of the Chevrolet-badged Camaro to the local mix (albeit in limited numbers and as a right hand conversion job) shows that Holden is still toying with the notion of adding other GM badges to Holden dealer lots.
As well, the sale of Opel – the source of the current ZB Commodore – to Peugeot-Citroen last year, could see a particular set of circumstances play out that could potentially see the return of the rear-wheel-drive large sedan to Aussie roads.
The Cadillac CT6 is a large rear-wheel-drive sedan that’s based on an older GM platform, which is set to be replaced in 2020 by a more flexible architecture. That means GM can still offer its markets around the world a large, rear-wheel-drive sedan that fits under its new strategy of minimising complexity across its brands.
And it would be a relatively easy job to spec a Holden Commodore – or indeed an Aussie-fied Cadillac CT6 – with GM’s latest 4.2-litre twin-turbo V8 for right-hand-drive consumption, along with an array of turbocharged six-cylinder motors beneath it.
And despite softening demand among private buyers for such a car, consider the fact that there are still a number of markets for it. Limo companies, emergency services and rental fleets, for example, all need a passenger vehicle that can carry five people and luggage over long distances in relative safety. NSW police forces have even been forced to look at premium BMW 5 Series diesel sedans as replacement Highway Patrol vehicles.
No one at Holden, of course, will confirm nor deny future product plans, and there’s also the matter of GM’s performance twins, the Corvette and Camaro, to consider as potential spoilers to a Commodore rear-drive revival.
But with the keys to the GM kingdom now in his hand, the temptation – even as a limited run – to bring back one of the most loved cars in Australia’s history must be strong for David Buttner and his team at Holden.