Glenn Brooks reports on production of the most advanced Australian-made car yet, soon to roll out at GM Holden’s Elizabeth plant in Adelaide.
Holden is one of only seven fully integrated GM global operations that have the ability to design and build vehicles for both a domestic market and export. Its headquarters at Fisherman’s Bend in Port Melbourne also houses a design studio, with a V6 petrol engine plant located nearby. The firm has just one vehicle plant, which is located in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth. The Holden Vehicle Operations (HVO) facility builds 45 model variants from two platforms, with six different body types being either fully manufactured or assembled.
The rear-wheel drive Commodore range of sedans, wagons and pick-ups, along with Caprice and Caprice V long wheelbase luxury sedans are built on a single line at Elizabeth. The same line assembles the front-wheel drive Cruze sedan and five-door hatchback. While the Commodore series big cars are fully manufactured, CKD Cruze kits are sourced from GM Korea’s Gunsan plant.
On-site operations at HVO include a press plant and metal assembly operation, body hardware facility, paint shop, plastics operation, body assembly and vehicle assembly operations. In January, ground was broken for a new body shop in anticipation of the next generation of vehicles to be built at the plant.
GM is in the midst of a A$1bn (US$1.03bn) investment programme for Holden, which includes a A$225m contribution from Australia’s federal government in Canberra, as well as A$50m from the state government of South Australia.
Much of the money being provided by GM and its governmen partners will be used to upgrade facilities at production of the next Cruze and the Commodore replacement, which will join it from 2017. Very little has been publicly announced about the second of these future vehicle programmes, though Holden MD Mike Devereux has confirmed that the company has no intention of killing off the Commodore model name.
“In the immortal words of the late Steve Jobs, a lot of folks have been speculating about whether this is the last Commodore,” Devereux stated as he revealed the new VF model in February. “Well, I can categorically tell you that we have already begun working on the Commodore that comes after this one”.
The replacement for the big rear-wheel-drive vehicle series will be launched in late 2016 or early 2017. While the company says the nameplate will be retained due to its long history, the car itself is expected to be somewhat smaller. This has led to suggestions that the VJ-series Commodore will be closely based on the successor to the Chevrolet Malibu. Holden has recently introduced the current Malibu – an import from GM Korea – fitting it with a unique grille to accompany its Holden badging.
Unlike today’s Commodore, the Malibu is front-wheel– drive and comes with a choice of four-cylinder engines, one of which is a diesel. This is likely to again be the case with the successor model. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that car will be the second future model that MD Mike Devereux says will be made at Elizabeth. It could be a different vehicle entirely, possibly even a version of the next generation Opel Insignia.
While the current Commodore series is underpinned by GM’s Sigma Zeta platform, this long-lived rear-wheel-drive architecture is already being phased out in other parts of the GM world. The more modern Alpha rear- and all-wheel drive platform debuted in 2012 with the Cadillac ATS sedan. Other Alpha architecture models to come include the next Cadillac CTS (2014) and Chevrolet Camaro (2015), each of which will be built alongside the ATS at GM’s Grand River plant at Lansing, Michigan.
If Alpha seems a long shot as the basis for the 2017 VJ Commodore, what could instead underpin it? The timing announced by Holden reveals some clues. Multiple global models that use the front-wheel drive Epsilon 2 architecture are due to be replaced from 2016. These include the Opel/ Vauxhall Insignia, which will use a new GM-developed platform as D-segment models are not part of PSA and GM Europe’s alliance.
Other cars that will share GM’s new mid-sized global vehicle architecture include the replacements for the Buick Regal, Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Malibu sedans. In that context, a new FWD/AWD platform, off which Holden could build one or even two new family-sized cars, would be a perfect fit for both the Australian market and for the Elizabeth plant. The timing would also be right, coming just months after the first vehicles on this platform are due to enter production at GM plants in North America and Asia.