Commodore Replacement: The Shortlist From GM’s Global Stable

TMR Team | Jul 11, 2014

By Tony O'Kane & Tim O'Brien

By the end of 2017, Holden’s Elizabeth plant will close its doors, and with it comes the end of a true-blue Aussie icon - the locally manufactured Commodore.

Even the Commodore nameplate is under a cloud. Despite former Holden boss Mike Devereux’s assurances, there are whispers that the badge may also be retired once Elizabeth shuts down.

But whether the name lives or dies, there will be a large segment sedan in Holden’s line-up.

“There will be a large car replacement and we are confident that it will honour our Australian legacy and perform very well in Australian conditions,” Kate Lonsdale, GM Holden Product Communications Senior Manager said.

“I can tell you our plan is to deliver a full offering of world-class vehicles across the different segments.

“We have access to world-class vehicles from across the GM global network and are looking to harness the very best of design and engineering from across the company globally,” she said.

But which car will Holden take from GM’s broad global product portfolio to fill the gap the VF Commodore will leave behind?

Let’s take a look at the contenders.

Buick Regal

The tipping (at the moment) has Holden’s future large sedan being sourced from Buick - and not just any Buick, but a Chinese-built long-wheelbase Buick.

Why China? Cost of manufacturing is low, a free trade agreement is in negotiation, and the Chinese appetite for large sedans is surprisingly strong (providing economies of scale for production).

The Buick brand is hugely popular there, selling no less than 809,000 cars in 2013 - about four times Buick sales in North America. It is, according to the New York Times, China’s “hottest luxury brand”.

GM, in fact, sells over 1.2 million cars in China annually, and dukes it out with the Volkswagen Group for ‘top-selling foreign automaker’ status.

There are two contenders under the Buick badge which could fit the bill.

2014 buick regal 02
The first is the Buick Regal (Buick’s version of the Opel Insignia) built on the familiar Epsilon II platform.

The Regal’s wheelbase however measures 2738mm - somewhat shorter than the VF Commodore’s 2915mm wheelbase.

This would count against it as a ‘large car segment’ competitor here.

Also running against it is that the smaller Regal is strictly a four-cylinder affair.

While the Regal has been well-received in the US, the grim performance of the Holden Malibu here, which also sits on the same platform and is essentially a down-market version of the same car, would perhaps delete it from considerations.

Buick LaCrosse

That throws up the Buick LaCrosse - a V6 contender and a larger car than the Opel Insignia - as a potential Commodore replacement.

Built on a stretched version of the Insignia’s Epsilon II platform, the current LaCrosse (and the equivalent Chevrolet Impala) has a wheelbase of 2837mm - just three-inches shy of the VF Commodore’s 2915mm wheelbase.

But though close in size, a LaCrosse-based Commodore would be very different to the Commodore that we know.

For starters, it is transverse-engined and only available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

The engine range will be somewhat familiar however, with the current-gen LaCrosse available with a range of V6 engines similar to the 3.0 and 3.6 litre direct-injection powerplants used by the VF Commodore.

It is generally well-reviewed in North American markets. Marty Padgett (of thecarconnection.com) gives it a four star rating:

“The LaCrosse has gone premium, along with the rest of Buick, and that's meant leaving the softly sprung past in the past, and a turn to more sporty and more shapely alternatives to the brand's heritage,” he said.

Chevrolet Impala

Why the Buick, why not the Chevrolet Impala?

True, the Impala and Buick LaCrosse are different versions of the same car - the more upmarket Buick, versus the ‘middle-America’ Impala.

But the Impala is built only in North American plants and a recovering US dollar, and retreating Aussie dollar, effectively removes the Impala from the list.

There would be no business-case to re-engineer the Impala and North American production lines for a small, and shrinking, large sedan market here.

The stronger case is for a Chinese-sourced LaCrosse.

Opel Insignia

Well, why not the Opel Insignia, the originator of the Epsilon II platform upon which the Buick Regal, Buick LaCrosse (and even Chev Impala) sit?

In fact, for the Insignia to replace the Commodore would be poignant, given that the original 1978 VB Holden Commodore was based on the Opel Rekord.

2014 opel insignia overseas 01

But with a wheelbase of 2737mm, the current-generation Insignia is - like the Buick Regal - a markedly smaller car than the Commodore.

It is, in reality, a medium segment car.

Then there's its largely four-cylinder range of powerplants and FWD/AWD drivetrains.

It would, however, open up the possibility of a diesel Commodore - something Holden has been experimenting with since the VE arrived in 2006 - and a flagship OPC variant is available to keep enthusiasts happy.

The Insignia also has the benefit of already having time in the market.

It was sold locally during Opel’s brief foray here in 2012-2013, and the top-tier turbo V6 AWD Insignia OPC is set to return in the first half of 2015 rebadged as the Holden Insignia VXR.

Is the VXR a sign that Holden is testing the waters again with the Insignia nameplate? We have yet to find out.

The Alpheon

Another contender, but this time from GM Korea - where a free trade agreement is now in place - is the Alpheon.

The Alpheon is a premium sub-brand of GM Korea of just one car, one model. Essentially it’s a local version of the LaCrosse for the South Korean market.

Like the Buick, it has a 3.0 litre V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission mounted transversely under the bonnet.

As Holden already sources a significant part of its showroom from GM Korea - like the Captiva, Trax and Malibu - it may seem logical to GM US to add the Alpheon to those shipments.

Sure as eggs it won’t be called Alpheon though, unless someone in Holden goes completely mad.

Roewe 950

At a very long shot, there is also the Roewe 950, and, again, GM’s Epsilon II platform is the common factor.

The Roewe is a restyled Chinese version of the Buick LaCrosse. It is manufactured by Roewe of SAIC and competes in the Chinese market with the Buick.

SAIC, or the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, is a joint venture partner with GM in China, and, notwithstanding Buick’s dominating presence in that market, produces a number of GM models under licence there.

Very unlikely, for sure, but in the mix.

But what if Holden wants to keep the Commodore RWD?

Cadillac CTS

While the thought of a FWD Commodore might have red-shirted traditionalists heaving, there may be salvation in the form of a RWD performance sedan or coupe built on GM’s new Alpha platform.

Currently, the Alpha platform is used under Cadillac’s C-Class sized ATS sedan as well as the larger CTS sedan.

The CTS would be a good contender to step in when the VF Commodore SS disappears in 2017, and though the flagship V8-powered CTS-V has yet to launch, the CTS Vsport’s 310kW twin-turbo 3.6 litre V6 gives it more than enough mumbo to make it worthy of the SS badge.

However there’s one problem with a Holden-badged CTS arriving here as a Commodore replacement.

2014 cadillac cts overseas 05
By the end of 2017 it will be a little way past the middle of its life cycle, and will be up for replacement just three short years later.

There are other problems with a Cadillac variant.

While a growing brand in China, it’s a premium luxury brand, competing upmarket with the likes of Lexus and Mercedes-Benz there.

The CTS would be an unlikely fit here other than as a replacement for the now almost-invisible Caprice.

Chevrolet Camaro

Will it all be too hard? Will Holden ditch the large sedan altogether in favour of importing a two-door sports car?

In other words, the next generation Camaro.

Above: the current 2014 Camaro.
Above: the current 2014 Camaro.

It offers RWD to keep enthusiasts happy, and, besides, family and fleet buyers will likely be happy enough with a larger ‘medium’ sedan, like the Malibu - if Holden can get it up to speed that is.

The current Camaro is built on the same Zeta platform as the VF Commodore (and was in fact designed and developed here in Australia), but its replacement is expected to migrate to the lighter and more modern Alpha platform later in the decade.

And while the present-day Camaro is only engineered for left-hand drive, its Alpha-platform replacement could very well be built in both left and right-hook versions.

Above: the new Camaro concept that appeared in Transformers 4.
Above: the new Camaro concept that appeared in Transformers 4.

The likely scenario:

Bringing in a Chinese-made large sedan to fill the Commodore-shaped gap in Holden’s range after 2017 makes economic sense, especially given the strong likelihood of a falling dollar - just ask the Reserve Bank - and, similarly, a falling Yuan.

The commitment to “a large car replacement” (GM Holden's Kate Lonsdale) would seem to sideline the medium-segment Insignia.

While the next-generation Opel Insignia may yet be named, exchange rates between the Euro and the Aussie dollar would need to remain favourable - something that is looking increasingly uncertain.

It won’t be the Malibu, and also likely not the Regal or the Chevrolet Impala.

A Chinese-built Buick LaCrosse therefore sits at the shorter odds in our estimation, followed closely by the GM Korea Alpheon, but Holden is keeping mum.

Certain however, is that the replacement will be FWD or AWD. As one GM forum commenter noted, “There is no RWD renaissance at GM.”

Also certain is that the decision has been made. But it will be at least two or more years before any news escapes from the GM ‘zone of silence’ on what will fill the Commodore’s large and competent shoes.

Watch this space.

Filed under: Featured, Holden, chevrolet, Cadillac, Opel, holden commodore, buick, cadillac cts, News, opel insignia, family, Advice, special-featured, tim o'brien, chevrolet impala, roewe 950, buick regal, alpheon

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  • Tom says,
    4 months ago
    I think it would be very risky of Holden to source the Commodore replacement from China, given the still very iffy reputation within Australia of Chinese built cars. It would also be more of a slap in the face to go from Aussie-built to Chinese-built, compared to if it was sourced from Korea or the US (both of which are seen as more like us in regards to level of development and westernification compared to China).

    With that in mind, i would put my money on Holden importing the Alpheon, sticking a new nose on it and have some marketing campaign banging on about it being 'tuned' for aussie conditions by Holden.
    • Balthazaaaaaargh says,
      4 months ago
      5 likes
      I don't think we'll ever again see an Australia-specific face for a model once the Commodore's gone. We're not a big enough market to justify any of that sort of investment.

      Vauxhall doesn't get the privilege, no reason we should.
      • Tom says,
        4 months ago
        Though I agree with you, I just remember a statement from Holden talking about future work for the Holden design team working on the 2017 Commodore replacement, which a lot of people interpreted to mean a minor Holden face-lift. You are right in that it wouldn't make financial sense, however it would from a brand management sense as a way of gently introducing the Australian public to the idea of a full import Commodore.
    • DLB_84 says,
      4 months ago
      With respect to the Commodore coming from China, I pretty sure that this refers only to where assembly will be done. The engineering design will still continued to be done by GM globally, including Australia.
      • DE says,
        4 months ago
        2 likes
        GM no longer have much design engineering capability in Australia, reducing to zero shortly.
  • DLB_84 says,
    4 months ago
    Given the close resemblance between the VF Commodore, and the current Opel Insignia, my opinion is that Holden will switch to the Opel/Buick range (where exactly they'll be built, and Chevrolet will make a return to Australia. This would allow Holden to move up-market, and Chevrolet to come in as the value prospect with their existing badge range.
    • Jimmy says,
      4 months ago
      1 like
      I agree with you in thinking Chevrolet will return to Australia. I think Holden will essentially be like Vauxhall in the UK with the 2 GM brands competing in the same market.
      But what models Holden sells will be interesting. I think several Opel models will appear (Astra, Corsa) badged as Holden, while Cruze would be Chevy badged.
      This line of thinking would probably see the Insignia as the large sedan.
  • DE says,
    4 months ago
    4 likes
    My bet is GM will follow Ford's lead (with the Mondeo and Mustang) and go with the Daewoorolleyes Alpheon as a "slightly dowsized" large family car and pick up the next gen Comaro as the enthusiast's choice.
    Don't expect Cadillac as a premium anytime soon either, the luxury car will be the Opel offerings.

    China might just be too hard from a brand image perspective. I'm actually waiting for the penny to drop when some of the Holden Faithfull realise that most of the range is already Korean once local manufacturing ends ....
  • FrugalOne says,
    4 months ago
    3 likes
    Seeing the VE/vf cost over $1 billion to engineer, why not move all the tooling/production etc to China, update it, and send it back here?

    China likes big cars, they have a market made for it

    Still continue on with the Commodore badge, and its still selling ok here

    "Engineered in Australia"...could work-
    • Steve says,
      4 months ago
      1 like
      If the existing range is selling well in China, why change it? Obviously they will hardly care what we make in this country with its 23 million consumers versus China and its 1400 million... we are too small a market to make something specific for and it makes no financial sense with no incentives (read: government financial assistance) here.

      Personally I don't see many loyal Holden customers flocking to the other GM products, they will need yo be priced accordingly. If they aim for a more upmarket/expensive brand, then I don't see the existing customers finding the extra coin justifiable when they could just buy a Lexus or something for less cash?
    • JL says,
      4 months ago
      3 likes
      I have no idea what decision will be made, but given that GM is making it, its certain to be wrong!
  • FrugalOne says,
    4 months ago
    4 likes
    gillard told us Holden manufacture was safe for another 10+ years....
    • Balthazaaaaaargh says,
      4 months ago
      3 likes
      Wow, I cannot believe Gillard couldn't see the future. I've NEVER heard of a politician lying or being wrong about the future...
    • DE says,
      4 months ago
      4 likes
      To be fair I guess GM never told her, but the decision WAS made on her watch (despite my union claiming otherwise).
  • Ray says,
    4 months ago
    6 likes
    Is anyone else feeling sad when reading this article?
    • Steve says,
      4 months ago
      2 likes
      Nope. This is a global economy and we should make global cars, not just cars for Australia. This is why we are uncompetitive in this country, and why manufacturing has moved on to cheaper places.

      Everyone here wants cheaper cars (look how well Kia/Hyundai are doing, even the cheaper GM products like the Cruze), but manufacturing is too expensive and they can't make it for a good profit without govt assistance. You want a pricey car? Get a German sedan or Lexus, simple.

      I am glad to see we are no longer supporting an industry that has been unable to support itself for a very long time. Spend the money elsewhere.
      • Ray says,
        4 months ago
        2 likes
        I agree with you Steve, and understand that labor costs in Aus was way too high. However I wasn't referring to whether or not it was feasible to continue manufacturing here... I'm just saying that the reality of it is sad. People connected personally and are very defensive of their homegrown cars. Are they the best cars in the world? No. Did we love them? Absolutely. That's why it's sad
  • Mike says,
    4 months ago
    4 likes
    A lot of captiva and barina buyers probably think their cars are made in Australia. Holden will sponsor the footy, have some heart tugging ads with Aussie kids and meat pies and zinc cream and people will buy the Chinese or Korean made large Holden thinking they are being patriotic.
    • Mav says,
      4 months ago
      I see where you're going with this but I reckon you'd find many buyers are more savvy than that these days. Remember when GM tried to pass off the Epica/Cruse as an "Aussie" car, then the punters worked out it was crap because it was made in the old Daewoo factory and they subsequently made the next series back in Oz? Hilarious...
  • Mav says,
    4 months ago
    5 likes
    Wouldn't touch any of them with a barge pole, except the Opel. The rest looks rubbish. bleh
  • hammer
    Hammer says,
    4 months ago
    3 likes
    Two words.... YOU'RE KIDDIN'?
  • Brett says,
    4 months ago
    Not sure why the article fails to mention that GM already produce a Commodore in China for it's domestic market. It's called a Buick Park Avenue and it is basically a WM Statesman Caprice. It's been getting made in China since 2007. Given that enginnering for this vehicle was done in Australia and production in China, I can't see there being much of an issue replicating the process for future vehicles. I am sure Holden has a few test vehicles here already checking out finish and reliability issues for our market. That will be the decisive factor for success or failure.
    • DE says,
      4 months ago
      2 likes
      "I can't see there being much of an issue replicating the process for future vehicles"

      Except that GM won't have any engineering capability (apart from shock absorber selection lol) in Australia. No GM vehicles are to be engineered in Australia.
      • Johnno says,
        4 months ago
        Unfortunately, once Holden stop making cars in Oz, they are finished as a brand. No one will buy a Holden if it has nothing to do with Australia. The Cadillac is a go, the Camaro is a go, anything Korean or Chinese will be shunned. Opel is the only hope. GM have really cooked their goose this time. The only Real hope, is if some cashed up businessman (with help from the Govt) sets up a Real Australian company, and continues to produce the Zeta platform under licence, pays a license fee to Detroit per vehicle, and continues to manufacturer here AND reset the export program that GM destroyed. Same applies to Ford, they will be dead once they stop making cars here. People will just buy Japanese cars for quality, Korean for cheap disposable, Deutsche for Lux. Any manufacturer here will have to look at hybrids, elecric drive, compressed air drive, of which we already have the technology in this country. Its about time to stop relying on the US and do it ourselves..which we can.
        • Greg H says,
          4 months ago
          One half of your comment (what people buy and the perceived reasons why) is the reason the other half won't happen ...no decent businessman, cashed-up or otherwise, would dream of setting up mainstream local vehicle manufacturing, because there simply aren't enough people buying locally-produced vehicles, no matter how good they are at their price point. A well-specc'd Corolla, Golf or a VF...I know which I'd buy (and did) but I'm clearly in the minority.

          Niche (and expensive) vehicles may be possible in the future, but unfortunately soon enough we won't be seeing volume Australian cars any more.
  • Mr. Reality says,
    3 months ago
    All ready locked in for 2015!!! Opel Corsa replaces Barina. Opel Astra in coupe, convertible, sedan and hatch badged as Holden in 2015. Turbo models included.

    Opel Insignia returns as a Holden in 2015 in 4cyl V6 and twin turbo V6. Holden's Korean range will be dumped by 2017.

    Camaro will sold here under HSV. Same with Twin Turbo Insignia from HSV as well.

    There will not be any Chinese replacement for the Commodore. Holden canned that months ago! Commodore will continue in name and with V6 and that most likely will be re-badged Impala.

    The Chev name plate will not make a showing here. Holden will remain Holden.

    Holden engineers and Lang Lang test track remain, Holden engineers will have input and design, R&D for future models for Australian conditions.

    Dont be surprised if after election in 2016 if we have a change of government that Holden suddenly announce Commodore to remain here and continue in RWD with V6 and V8.

    Holden design center and engineers are pivitol in the GM empire. GM are not about to let them go or sell off the factory.

    Holden had been well into VF replacement to be made here before the Hockey/Abbott debacle.




    • DE says,
      3 months ago
      Your post seemed quite plausible for a start, until I got down to how you reckon that Holden Engineers will have input into future models.

      Then I started to question your "knowledge". The R&D cabability is aready all but gone.

      Next I read that you think a change in Fed Govt will make the Factory stay and I knew that you actually have no idea.

      Finally I read that you are up to the eyballs in the Labor / Unions blamegame on Abbot/Hockey and don't even know that the decision was made well before the last election.

      You are speculating, at best, and lack any real facts. Embarrasing for you, really.
      • Mr. Reality says,
        3 months ago
        Do some reading my learned friend. You will find that all Opel models I mentioned are in fact locked in for sale by Holden next year. That is fact!!!

        Holden do not want a Chinese replacement for Commodore this has been mentioned by the new Holden CEO.

        Cruze, Barina, and Captiva are on chopping block. GM may be selling Daewoo off and have certainly scaled back financial input in Daewoo.

        Cruze has one more facelift before it gets axed. Yep again do some reading.

        I do not know where you are getting that Holden Engineers and R*D dept are gone. I don't know what you are reading but it's wrong and big time.

        Lang Lang proving ground is being retained by GM. Why do you think that is? Holden and GM have repeatedly stated that Holden engineers will do the R&D work for models slated for here to suit Australian conditions as well as input for world models. Again you need to do some further reading.

        Sigh! How many times do I need mentioned that Holden are retaining R&D.


        Holden engineers will have input on any future model sold here. Just as Ford Au will do so after 2016.

        Ah we gotta bring the unions in eh? Did I mention them? You can bet if Labor win in 2016 which is pretty much on the cards, and no I wont get into politics.

        The ALP will do whatever it can to keep Holden here. Yes you right, I am speculating a little on that last part but everything else is locked in.






      • Mr. Reality says,
        3 months ago
        (Finally I read that you are up to the eyballs in the Labor / Unions blamegame on Abbot/Hockey and don't even know that the decision was made well before the last election.)


        Er again you don't read do you? Mike Devereaux stated a number of times leading up to the last election...His words not mine: If Labor retain Government GM Holden will stay! If Tony Abbott wins the election, Holden will most likely leave.

        Holden was well under way on VF Replacement to be built here, new paint shop in factory and tooling up. You don't do that if you are planning on pulling out do you?

        Holden were not planning leaving.

        • DE says,
          3 months ago
          Ah so I see that you are "well read". Perhaps too well read, because you have believed far too much, not to mention being far too selective.

          What about Devereaux's statement that "categorically Holden would have closed regardless of any Government assistance - it just is not viable anymore" or maybe "the decision to close manufacturing operations in Australia has in no way been influenced by My Hockey or the current government".

          Most of Holden's Engineers are either gone or going, a few suspension tuners at Lang Lang does not constitute an R&D department (as opposed to Ford Australia's full, ground up engineering and design capability).

          The decision to leave was made well before the Federal election. Information from within MY union has confirmed this.

          I agree GM were (are) well advanced with the VF replacement - it was always goping to be a global design and was never intended to be designed in Australia - your claims otherwise are uninformed.

          Finally, you have admitted that your information is based on (internet) reading and you suggest that I should read more - thanks, but as a Design Engineer, with many contacts throughout the industry, I'll take my personally aquired knowledge of the facts over something that you've read on the 'net anyday.

          Cheers!
          • Mr. Reality says,
            3 months ago
            I agree Holden may have closed down manufacturing at some point but I don't think it would have been as soon as announced.

            I am aware the VF replacement was a global design with Holden input and not unique to Holden. Much like the first VB. Still, it would have kept Australians in jobs.

            It was announced that the Holden R&D team would go
            and Lang Lang would be sold off. Then it was reported that Holden would retain Lang Lang and R&D when Ford announced it would retain it's R&D

            You're right, I do read a bit. I don't believe all I read and some of what I do, I concede might just be wrong.

            Congrats on being an Design Engineer! Unless you actually work for GM Holden then I can't really believe to much of what you say either.

            No offense.

            Cheers.
            • DE says,
              3 months ago
              Mr R.
              Let's be clear GM are NOT retaining a design engineering department in Australia, capable of engineering a car. What they are retaining is a small cell of people that run Lang Lang and can tune the basic suspension design of an imported car - it's called localisation, but it's only a minimal capability.

              No you are correct I don't (and haven't) work for GM, but then unfortunately many of my collegues don't work for them anymore either. GM have been sending much of the "Australian" engineering work to India for years.

              And hey, you believe what suits you, personally I'll just carry on with the facts.

              Enjoyed the chat.
  • Michael says,
    2 months ago
    RWD please! Also the future Opel Monza as an
    alternative to the Comaro.
    I will probably be buying a Hyndai Genesis or
    Dodge Charger (if that ever makes it to RHD)
    in 2018+
  • donk1 says,
    2 months ago
    It's now a certainty that Opel will supply all cars for Holden including the Commodore replacement. No Chinese built cars are likely to be on the radar due to serious quality, reliability & safety issues that still plague current models sold here. Opel at least with Astra, Insigna, & Corsa can offer a turbo diesel in all models here or more likely in the Insigna & Astra for our market , whereas there is no possibility of those engines being offered in the Chinese built vehicles. Insignia & Astra CDTI models should account for 40-45% of total sales.

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