If you want to see the future of Holden in Australia, this is it. Yes, it’s the same car that Jack Baruth took to the woodshed in today’s edition of TTAC, but it’s also a harbinger of things to come for the iconic Australian marque, with the announcement that Holden’s Elizabeth, Australia plant will be tooling up to produce the first ever front-wheel drive Commodore. And even that looks doubtful.
It hasn’t been a good week for Holden, and news of the Holden Ute’s likely demise was just the first blow. Last week it was announced that Holden boss Mike Devereux will be departing for GM’s Consolidated International Operations in Shanghai.
Devereux’s departure is seen as a serious blow to Holden’s future. The British-born, Canadian-raised veteran of GM was widely seen as the man who could help turn around Holden with a 5-year, the widely-praised, outspoken executive was credited with helping shake up a badly underfunded division of GM that was at once perpetually on the brink of collapse and unable to recognize its own poor financial health. promoted to Vice President of sales, marketing and aftersales at GM’s Consolidated International Operations, which is based in Shanghai and covers more than 100 countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The ongoing uncertainty regarding Holden is creating a political climate where subsidies for Holden and other auto makers (including Toyota) are rapidly becoming unpopular with the public. But that isn’t stopping Holden from forging ahead with retooling its factory in the South Australian town of Elizabeth to build an all-new large sedan, that will be front wheel drive and likely based on the Epsilon II architecture that underpins the Chevrolet Malibu, Impala and other sedans. This new Holden has all but been confirmed to be the new Commodore, and would mark the first time since its introduction in 1978.
While TTAC has been reporting on a possible shift to an FWD Commodore for years, the latest developments appear to be the final blow for the division’s existence as anything but another brand for GM’s global architectures. The line of unique cars and engineering carried out down under will likely die with the VF Commodore, while 2016 will mark the year that the big rear-drive Australian sedans took their last breaths.
All of these developments reflect an overarching and unavoidable theme of today’s automotive industry: consolidation. Despite being the darling of enthusiasts, Holden is losing money hand over fist, particularly with Australian-built, market-specific vehicles built on the Zeta platform, such as the Commodore, Ute and other variants. In a market with 60 brands competing for 1 million sales, unprofitable players like Holden are suffering from shifting consumer tastes (towards crew cab pickups, Japanese compacts and more premium cars), a freer economic market for new vehicles and increased fuel prices.
On the corporate side, Devereux’s move to Shanghai is a reflection of China’s increasing importance in GM’s international operations. It’s possible that as Holden wanes, GM could copy Ford’s move of bringing the once distinct Australia/New Zealand markets under a regional umbrella, with Holden becoming little more than a brand selling Thai-made pickups and Korean made Cruzes. And maybe, if they’re lucky, an Epsilon sedan that is made in Australia, not Korea.