By on December 12, 2013


I believe 2013 will be a year that Australia decides whether it wants to have an auto industry or not,” 

-Mike Devereux, Holden’s former Managing Director, in November, 2012

Those ominous words spoken by Mike Devereux last year have taken on an almost eerie significance in light of yesterday’s events. After more than a half century of building cars in Australia, Holden will now become a “national sales company”, ostensibly selling rebadged global General Motors products, manufactured in places like Korea and Thailand.

But veiled remarks about the Australian auto industry aren’t the only words uttered by Devereux that caused us to take notice. At the launch of the latest VF Commodore, Devereux made a vague statement about the Commodore’s future, implying that it would be built on a global platform at the Adelaide factory. While the latter is no longer possible, there’s still hope that the Commodore could live a GM architecture. The only question is, which one?

Originally, Devereux claimed that two global architectures were coming to Adelaide after 2016 – and one of them would be the next Commodore.

“This [Commodore] will run through to the end of 2016. After that time we are going to be putting two global architectures into the [Adelaide] plant, one of them will underpin the next Commodore.”

To make sure he wasn’t misunderstood, Devereux repeated: “There is another Commodore coming after this one. We’re going to build it in Adelaide on a [global] architecture.”

While production at Adelaide is off the table, there is still the matter of which architecture could be used, with two schools of thought on the matter.

The predominant theory is (or was – until Holden decided to close up shop) that the Commodore would move to the front-drive Epsilon II architecture, and become little more than a rebadged Chevrolet Impala or Buick Regal (media reports suggested that the next Commodore would be a front-drive car the size of a Toyota Camry and sold as a Buick in other markets).

There are plenty of good reasons to do this. Despite the broad fanfare the rear-drive Aussie sedans attract among North American enthusiasts, they are similar to other enthusiast pet interests, in that their sales and profitability does not measure up to the mythology surrounding them. Australian car buyer tastes have shifted away from cars like the Falcon and Commodore to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars – attributes better suited to front wheel drive platforms than rear drive layouts.

Smaller cars like the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 are dominating the sales charts currently, along with pickups like the Toyota HiLux. Hanging on to fifth place is the Holden Commodore, which is enjoying its strongest sales in some time. But even then, front drive rivals like the Toyota Camry aren’t far behind (the Camry currently sits in 9th place). The market for sedans is still there, but which wheels are driven may not matter as much.

However, the Commodore brand is not just another nameplate. Is is arguably Australia’s national car, and a front-wheel drive Commodore would be a dramatic departure from the familiar formula that Australians are used to. General Motors experiment with a Holden badged Malibu (based on Epsilon II) hasn’t been terribly well received either.

That leaves another global platform in GM’s selection, one that drives the proper wheels and crucially, has the potential for scale. The Alpha platform, currently used only on the Cadillac ATS and CTS, and eventually, the next generation Camaro, could make for a very nice next-generation Commodore. Its use as a CTS shows that it can be adapted to the size that Aussie full-size buyers (or what’s left of them) expect in a Commodore. The platform can accommodate everything from GM’s 2.0T 4-cylinder, to the 3.6L V6 in both turbo and naturally aspirated forms and crucially (for marketing, purposes at least) whatever V8 the next-generation Camaro opts for.

The three nameplates using Alpha right now won’t allow for significant volumes, given that they are luxury and nice sports car vehicles. But a new Commodore – sold as a Holden in Australia, a Buick in China and the United States and perhaps even as another sporty Chevrolet as a successor to the SS – could help Alpha get the volume it needs, while leaving Commodore diehards happy. Of course, it wouldn’t be built in Australia. Only GM’s Lansing, Michigan plant and a factory in Shanghai build Alpha. A Made In China Commodore, no matter how good, is probably the opposite of what Holden wants to deal with from a marketing perspective.

I’m not going to pretend that this is anything other than a bit of wishful thinking sprinkled with a basic understanding of auto industry economics. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that GM would go to the trouble of engineering an all-new rear-drive architecture and restrict it to three nameplates that will do 99 percent of their volume in North America. There has to be further use for Alpha, and I hope that the next Commodore is one of them.

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26 Comments on “Alpha: General Motors Last Hope For The Commodore...”

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    We are going to see more Alpha derivative, maybe including a Commodore. A cool aspect of the architecture is the manufacturing technology advancement which enables it to be lighter than far more expensive competitors.

    Lansing been producing cars for 116 years, once produced 500,000 cars a year on one line at 95 jobs/hour. I think the sweet spot today may be 60 for high output plants. They will be able to build a lot of Alphas before needing more plants in NA. They can triple shift the current plant, if need be.

  • avatar
    Dirk Stigler

    They’d have to manage the platform sharing carefully to avoid devaluing the Cadillac brand, 80s-style, in the process. One thing that might work would be to build a large Alpha car to replace the FWD XTS. It could also be sold as a Buick in China and Holden in Australia, and as a Chevy (either as an Impala or the nameplate I wish would come back, Chevelle) in the US.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s possible to do this correctly and not horribly sacrifice your brand. (Audi seems to do okay with the A3.) But yeah, GM doesn’t have the best track record here. (Even after all these years, I still think Cadillac hasn’t lived down the Cimmaron.)

      • 0 avatar
        Dirk Stigler

        Unfortunately there still seem to be a lot of echos of the bad old days at GM, from channel-stuffing, to the Malibu that didn’t even match its competitors last-generation legroom, to bringing out a brand new large _FWD_ Cadillac with an obvious resemblance to a Chevy. There are bright spots too — you’d never have had a car like the ATS in the old days, fully baked at launch. But… over the long haul I think they’re going to kind of hang in there, not come roaring back.

    • 0 avatar

      “They’d have to manage the platform sharing carefully to avoid devaluing the Cadillac brand,”

      The Alpha platform is not tied to Cadillac’s market segment. GM developed the Alpha platform to provide a compact to mid-size, front- and four-wheel drive platform for use throughout GM. The Cadillac ATS just happened to be the first project in line.

  • avatar

    The Buick idea is great.

    I just don’t understand why you say they will produce them in China. The US and Australia have a free trade agreement. Yes you have to deal with shipping across the pacific but Toyota is doing with the Highlander so why can’t gm? With shipping it would still be cheaper or similar priced to the current model.

    The current price doesn’t seem to stop it from being sold in Australia. It’s still a strong seller as the article states. It just costs a ton to produce locally.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a strong fleet seller.

      “Government and fleet sales typically account for more than seven out of every 10 Commodores sold”

      A lot of those fleet sales will evaporate if the cars are imported. There is very little retail demand for Commodores, and the demand isn’t high enough to be profitable.

    • 0 avatar

      And in Korea, they’re buying US-built Hondas instead of Japanese Hondas. FTAs count for something.

  • avatar

    The wisest idea would be to retire the Commodore nameplate and move on. It’s no longer that compelling for most consumers, while the few remaining diehards who do care will probably take offense to whatever replaces it.

    Keep in mind that a fair chunk of Commodore sales were to government fleets that were buying domestic. (The cops often drive Falcons and Commodores, for example.) If the cars are imported, then there won’t be as much reason for that segment to buy them.

    • 0 avatar

      Wonder what the job situation would be if GM kept Australian operations open by building Commedores for govt/fleet orders and allowed customers to special order a civilian version at their local dealer? Allow the rest of the Holden lineup to go “foreign” but keep that symbol of national pride. Kinda like how the last few years of Panther production the Grand Marquis was supposed to be “order only.”

      • 0 avatar

        That’s the situation that they have now. It’s unprofitable now, and it always will be.

        There are only two ways to make money with the car: either sell it for a lot more money, or else make the world outside of Australia really want one. As for the former, it won’t happen (they’ve instituted massive price cuts this year as is), and if the latter were true, then they would be better off building it somewhere else where there is scale available.

        The problem with Australia is the inherent lack of scale in a small, isolated country. That lack of scale creates inherent inefficiencies that can’t be fixed locally. Automaking at low volumes just costs too much.

        • 0 avatar

          What about an imported Alpha based sedan with a different nameplate?

          • 0 avatar

            If it’s a world car that can be profitable, then they might sell a few of them. But Australian sales aren’t going to put a lot of food on the table – the population is just too low.

            Australian tastes have changed significantly, particularly now that they now have more choices due to tariff reductions. It wouldn’t be wise for GM to devote a lot of resources to making a distinctly Australian big sedan.

  • avatar

    Sadly I get the feeling that this isn’t a possibility for Holden.

    What isn’t been covered until now, is the engieering part of Holden. They’re closing down thee Lang Lang proving grounds, the most advanced production facility in the country, and making 400 engineers redundant, leaving 50-100 engineers. This means that Holden, as a company that can make a car from the ground up… well, it’s leaving with the factory. I seriously hoped they would just make our national icon somewhere else, but the Australian car really is dead from this moment on. No more Commodores, just warmed over GM rubbish. I seriously hope I’m wrong, though. Alpha would be perfect.

    The only silver lining is that HSV have talked about using the VF platform as a legacy platform, to continue the HSV tradition in V8s. Of course it’ll include otehr cars in the GM family, but at least the Aussie muscle car won’t die (just yet, anyway.)

    If we ever needed proof that Holden had every intention of staying until very recently… what Mike Devereux said this year at the VF Commodore launch that work had already started on the new Commodore to be made in Adelaide? That’s proof. For anyone to say that had already made the decision? Insane. Why would they do it after launching a significantly improved new model and only let it sell for a few months before annoucing that you’re leaving the country.

    The blood is clearly on the Coalition government.

  • avatar

    Maybe the government of the Socialist Republic of Australia should take the departure of Ford, GM, and Toyota VERY seriously. With its taxation and business restrictions, why would anyone now want to produce automobiles there? There are many third-world countries that woo large international corporations of many types, whose people want to work hard for a decent living, and they are not only called “China”.


    • 0 avatar

      Yup. The auto industry in Thailand is booming. And since South Korea will no longer be exporting Chevrolets to Europe, they’ll happily export Holdens to Australia (not that SK is 3rd world).

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not inclined to agree with Robert and his Siamese twin Al, but referring to Australia as socialist is really absurd.

      The government in Canberra is presently ruled by conservatives, the country has leaped onto the free trade bandwagon, and most things are privatized. You have no factual basis for your hyperbole.

    • 0 avatar

      Your definition of conservatives is equal to our definition of far left from what I’m seeing.
      Think- guns, death penalty, taxation, regulation…. All of these are extremely left in australlia. Far from what is considered conservative.

    • 0 avatar

      Australia should have instituted a high carbon tax. Would do wonders for state finances, the idiot exchange rate and would kept people working

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    GMH, from the very berginning weas simply a branch office operation with all of it’s boss structure sourced from overseas. Even it’s first CEO was English,Sir Luarence Hartnet ,Most of those 400 engineers mentioned above were also sourced from overseas. And as for the commodore,no one will buy one because of labor led state government legislation.
    You can register anually your 4 cyl car for $500 . Your 6 or V8 will cost over $1000…annually. So why buy a cheaply made Commodore when Kia andf hyundai offer far better quality at a better price?
    As for commodore being Australian…it aint and never was …it is Opel.
    Opel commodore and Senator..remember them? same car folks.

    • 0 avatar

      Registration has been that way for years. For at least 10 years. It’s hardly a recent change by Labor that caused that… In my state, the way it’s been for years – 4 cylinder cost around $660/year and V8s cost around $880/year. If someone is discouraged of having a 6 or V8 because of an extra $220/year rego, don’t tell them about the fuel bills, either… you want an expensive tax/rego system, look at the UK! It’s not even close to being a contributing factor. If you want to know where large car sales went, look at the rise of the SUV/CUV/Dual cab ute market, that’s where the sales have gone.

      So you’re saying that the VE/VF Commodore, which was developed ground up in Australia, isn’t…? As I’ve mentioned in other news threads, the Opel versions are barely closely related cousins. Holden took those platforms and made them wider, stiffer, longer, created unique styling (doors were about the only common body part), completely different interiors engines, transmissions… you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about if you think that Holden Commodores are identical to Opel models.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Toyota is yet another to suckle on the tax payers tit. They recieved several hundred million from labor to develop a green car.. what did we get ?A very few very expensive hybrid camrys..A terrible investment and one which the coalition questioned in parliament,only to answered with cries of “climate sceptics” and “greenhouse deniers “.But no real answer as to why Australia gave them so much money. Hopefully we will enter a phase like NZ where all manufacturers are forced to sell good cars and price them properly,not gouge us as GM has done since 1948.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    ” a bit of wishful thinking sprinkled with a basic understanding of auto industry economics”

    I agree with the first part of that sentence.

    See this graph and start wishing

  • avatar

    How to Save Holden:

    maybe they need to go to alpha numeric nameplates, close a bunch of dealers and force the rest to spends millions on unnecessary facility upgrades. then develop the world’s most intricate and confusing incentive structure while hiring overpaid and useless spokesmen to populate idiotic and meaningless advertisements featuring distress pricing and clowns.

    oh wait, that segment is already taken by GMNA.


  • avatar

    Oh, I’m so with you on that one, Buickman!

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