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The ZB should never have been a Commodore

By Cameron Kirby, 11 Dec 2019 Opinion

Holden Commodore ZB

You can’t just slap a Commodore badge on an imported product and expect the public to buy it

It seemed so obvious – that the ZB Commodore would be the last of its kind – but it doesn’t make the news any easier to digest.

If you happened to miss it, Holden announced yesterday that it was killing off the Commodore (and Astra) at the end of 2020, marking the end of the line for one of the most iconic nameplates in Australian history.

Thing is, it’s an announcement that has come two years too late. The current ZB generation Commodore should never have existed, it should have been the Australian-built VF that saw off the end of the legendary badge.

Having the Commodore badge live on beyond the VF was a disservice to the nameplate, condemning it to exit on a whimper instead of a roar.

Not only was the Commodore no longer Australian, it didn’t have a V8, and it didn’t send power to the rear wheels.

It’s arguable that the VF was the ultimate Commodore, with HSV’s heroic GTSR W1 its large and muscular zenith. But instead of ending on a high, the nameplate was forced to endure two more years, almost unrecognisable from the Commodore that we had all come to know and love.

Holden’s decision to cease local production is a separate issue, and debate about that continues to rage on, but what really appalled many motoring enthusiasts was the decision to use the Commodore name on an imported model, with the ZB being nothing more than a rebadged Opel Insignia.

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Some may have seen the decision to rebadge the Opel Insignia as the Commodore’s story coming full circle, with certain parts of the internet wedded to a revisionist view of history that sees the original VB Commodore as nothing more than a rebadged Opel in the first place. But that take completely dismisses the work put in Australian engineers, stylists, and line workers in making the VB distinctly Australian. 

There is no doubt the Commodore name has huge cultural impact in Australia, and you can’t fault a marketing department that may have wanted to cash in on the legend. ‘Why squander all the brand equity of such a household name?’ was Holden’s attitude at the time.

But where it all went wrong was that the Commodore name was more than a badge on a sedan, it was – to us here down under at least - something distinctly and irrevocably Australian; a local hero built by local workers. Putting the name on anything less than an Australian-built car seemed wrong, even offensive and disrespectful, to many motoring enthusiasts.

Putting a shrinking segment aside, the decision to import and rebadge the Insignia isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it is a decent car and deserved to have sold better than it has. But it was not worthy of the Commodore badge, and the buying public gave Holden’s decision to badge it as such the respect it deserved.

While hindsight is a wonderful thing, let’s just be thankful the badge hasn’t been used on an SUV…yet.

Read next: Holden VE Commodore - the legacy