Will New Zealanders take to the new Holden Commodore?
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When the news was confirmed this week the fifth generation Commodore line-up would include four-cylinder turbo models and front-wheel-drive, the social media outrage predictably arrived on cue.
There shouldn’t have been any great surprise given the late-2017 end date for Holden’s Australian manufacturing operation had been announced back in December 2013.
So what does an all-new Commodore mean for Kiwi buyers? Probably not as much as you might think.
Not very long ago it wasn’t uncommon to hear Holden New Zealand referred to as the Commodore Car Company.
It wasn’t just a reference to its best-selling model line. It highlighted that Holden could sell big Australian cars to Kiwis but underperformed in nearly every other segment of the market.
Times have changed. New Zealand’s top-selling Holden last year and to-date this year is the Colorado ute – and by a clear margin. Commodore ranks number two this year ahead of the Captiva but unquestionably one of Holden’s main achievements in recent years a broader sales mix – not carrying all its eggs in the Commodore basket.
That sales mix now means vehicles built mainly in Korea and Thailand and a renewed emphasis on Europe when the made-in-Poland new generation Astra hatch arrives in early 2017 and the German-built next generation Commodore arrives early in 2018.
For the foreseeable future the booming ute market shows no signs of slowing and Holden is also gearing up to meet the relentless demand for SUVs with new models such as the Trailblazer, Acadia, Equinox and an updated Trax.
With that sort of activity happening it’s difficult to see the Commodore nameplate ever returning to number one status in the Holden New Zealand range.
Do I think New Zealand customers will embrace four-cylinders, front-wheel-drive and make the next Commodore a sales winner?
The market segment where larger four-cylinder cars such as the Ford Mondeo, Toyota Camry, Mazda6 and Nissan Altima compete is being double eroded by mid-size SUVs and a new breed of much roomier small-medium cars. So probably not.
But Holden New Zealand customers generally don’t buy the base model 3.0-litre VF II Evoke sedan. Foremost they are sports sedan and sportwagon customers and the SV6 is the most popular model in town.
And for SV6 drivers the fifth generation Commodore is going to offer the next evolution of their current 3.6-litre V6 engined car with more power, less weight (leading to better fuel consumption) and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive and nine-speed transmission plus a host of new technology.
So while populist view is the Commodore is a throaty V8 sports sedan with a death sentence hanging at its door the showroom reality is it’s primarily a six-cylinder car with sporting appeal.
Since 1978 the Commodore has constantly evolved to be what it has needed to be. That’s meant four-cylinder, straight-six, V6 and V8 engines and at one point engines sourced from Nissan which included a turbo version.
Progress has taken it from three-speed automatics to a modern six-speed and now nine gears is just over the horizon.
The Commodore started life closer in size to a Cortina than to a Falcon but grew to full-size. The wagon was a carryall wagon designed for fleets before becoming the modern sportwagon that families love. Commodore even became a coupe for a short time, has had four-wheel-drive before (in the Adventra) and if you count the five-door SSX concept car from 2002 Holden has at least explored the Sportback theme before.
The Commodore was based on Opel architecture for the first three of the four generations and the VE/VF platform is the only one that can fully claim Australian heritage.
For a long time the Commodore was Holden’s most important model to a precarious degree but has become one of several key models in a much broader range.
So as we wait for February 2018 and the next evolution to roll around we know there are only a few more things the Commodore hasn’t been before. It won’t be built in Australia and the base models will be front-wheel-drive. And it isn’t going to make Holden the Commodore Car Company again.