HOLDEN Special Vehicles’ future is just weeks away from being locked down, with the performance sub-brand set to resign with the Walkinshaw Group for a five-year deal.
The deal, which has been months in negotiations with GM executives in Port Melbourne and abroad, means the Clayton-based manufacturer will continue tweaking GM products until at least 2022.
However, HSV will back away from its big-power heritage and instead focus on “exciting, aspirational” vehicles that could be as broad as a rally raid-style off-road ute or go-fast SUV.
In what is set to be the most challenging period for a brand known for its Commodore-based high-performance V8s, the surety of a medium-term deal – the five-year deal is half that of previous contracts – means it can focus on the imported vehicles that are now Holden’s future.
In a shock move, though, Wheels understands the new German-made Commodore that arrives early in 2018 will not get the HSV treatment, mainly because it is not available with a suitable engine. The most powerful Insignia-based Commodore is a 270kW 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6, well down on the soon-to-be-revealed HSV W1, a 480kW supercharged V8 monster that will send off Australian manufacturing later this year.
In an exclusive interview with Wheels, HSV managing director Tim Jackson outlined a new future and direction for the company, with power no longer the top priority.
“We have to undergo a transformation in our business because we have had a very stable business with the Commodore platform for a very long period,” Jackson said.
“We are actually pretty intrigued and excited about what the future holds. But we will be true to the brand. It needs to be exciting, inspirational vehicles that we develop.”
The shift to dual-cab utes, SUVs and small cars mimics the dramatic change in the overall market that contributed to the demise of the Australian Commodore and its prime rival, the Ford Falcon.
“If we wanted to define our customer as a rear-wheel-drive, Australian-made V8 customer, then we are out of business at the end of the year,” he said. “We can’t define our customer that way. Our customer needs to be that guy looking for an exciting, aspirational vehicle, and that comes in all forms. You only have to look at how significantly the market has changed in the last few years to see exciting vehicles are coming in different forms.”
Jackson would not be drawn on specific models that would form the future line-up, but did say, “We do see scope for some pretty exciting vehicles that we think meet what our organisation has always been about, which is delivering exciting vehicles for people to drive”.
The sticking point with HSV is the level of customisation it can make. As a GM product, vehicles with significant engine or body changes would require large engineering investment to meet rigorous global standards.
The V8 Question
A Commodore-based HSV is unlikely, but a V8 could still be part of the brand’s future. The recent expansion of the Walkinshaw Group into right-hand-drive conversions of Ram trucks opens the door to local conversions of the Chevrolet Camaro, something HSV has been investigating intensely.
With all Camaros produced only as left-hookers, it makes HSV a prime candidate for a high-quality local conversion. HSV boss Tim Jackson refused to discuss the prospects of the Camaro arriving Down Under wearing an HSV badge, but hinted a V8 model was on the wish list.
“Transforming the business doesn’t mean we forget our heritage and passion for certain style of products,” he said.
Given the sharp pricing of the Camaro’s most obvious rival, the fast-selling Ford Mustang, it’s likely HSV would focus on more-expensive and more-powerful versions of the Camaro for Australia, such as the 485kW ZL1.