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What might've been: HSV's hybrid eCommodore

By Alex Inwood, 11 Nov 2018 Opinion

What might've been: HSV's hybrid eCommodore

Editor Inwood learns what HSV was planning, had they fettled with Holden's ZB Commodore

It takes the boss of HSV almost an hour to drop a tasty detail about the new Commodore. But when he does, Tim Jackson reveals a tantalising glimpse into what could have been. Speaking to Wheels at HSV’s brand-new production facility in Clayton South, Jackson details that had his company fettled the ZB, it could have electrified it.

“We were thinking about how can we really innovate this and do it differently,” he tells me. “We spent a fair bit of time thinking about what if we had electric enhancement as opposed to swapping the engine in and out? What if the excitement came from the electric side of the equation?”

Read next: Holden Colorado SportsCat+ by HSV quick review

Ponder that for a moment. Imagine the impact a halo version of the ailing ZB could have for HSV and Holden. A car armed both with HSV’s renowned chassis-tuning expertise, and a hybrid powertrain wicked up with Tesla-esque performance. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

The reality check is that for now, the program has been shelved. High costs and a supply base more interested in snaring the hybrid/EV business of big OEMs, as opposed to niche players asking for 1000 units a year, have hit pause on the move. Yet Jackson assures me that once the market matures, electrification has a future with HSV. “You can actually deliver a really exciting drive with hybrids and those sort of things,” he says.

It’s a nugget of information that speaks volumes about the current thinking inside HSV. In this post rear-drive Commodore world, it’s looking to be bold. To be brave. To reinvent itself.

That hasn’t been easy. With no V8 Commodore to fettle, HSV has branched out into dual-cab utes like the controversial Colorado Sportscat by HSV, and zeroed in on its conversion business, which sees it expertly transform big buses like the Chevrolet Silverado into right-hookers. It’s a move that has added jobs – HSV now employs 350 workers, an increase of 200 – though also one that has alienated parts of its rusted-on fan base.

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“I think some understand it, and some don’t,” says Jackson. “We’ve had four years to get used to it. Our customers are still grappling with that.”

Questions about HSV’s plans for the ZB still persist, both from journalists, and increasingly, from the public, but for now it isn’t on the radar. Wheels understands Holden is especially keen for HSV to add some enthusiast appeal to the imported Commodore, but finding a suitable engine – either a twin-turbo V6 or a V8 – at an achievable price has been tricky. “The jigsaw puzzle just hasn’t come together,” says Jackson. “Our thinking was this [ZB] is a very different car [to VF] so let’s make it different. We would have rather taken more of a risk to make it great, than make something mediocre and have everybody disappointed in the outcome.”

Instead HSV will focus on three core product lines for the immediate future: Sportscat, Silverado and the imminent Camaro.

Read next: 2018 Chevrolet Camaro review

The Camaro is a welcome shot of familiarity for HSV; a return to form that will instantly see it reclaim some of the brand identity it has lost. The burning question, though, is how does HSV use that kernel to rebuild an identity that was once its greatest strength? Everybody knew what HSV stood for; a maxim brilliantly embodied by the slogan “I just want one!”. Jackson freely admits that HSV has played it safe for a long time; that it was reluctant to innovate and to embrace change. Now it has no choice.