Holden Commodore takes on America

By Matt Greenop

Chevrolet's Holden-based NASCAR in stealth mode. The next-generation Commodore will also be sold as a road car in the US as a Chevrolet SS.
Chevrolet's Holden-based NASCAR in stealth mode. The next-generation Commodore will also be sold as a road car in the US as a Chevrolet SS.

The next-gen Holden Commodore will be sold in the United States.

Holden will export its big sedan to North America, in reasonably grunty form, to be re-badged as the Chevrolet SS. The Commodore will take on America's showrooms, as well as the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

It will be the first time in the last 17 years that Chevy will offer a rear-wheel-drive sedan for sale in the United States, and it was born in Melbourne, not Detroit.

The VF Commodore, which has not yet been launched, will sell in limited numbers wearing the iconic SS badge towards the end of 2013. When the legendary Daytona 500 rolls around, the Aussie-bred SS will be taking on the 200-lap NASCAR race.

Rumours of the NASCAR Commodore have been circulating for some time, but Holden's new export deal is far larger than first expected.

The company, without unveiling too many secrets about the new Commodore, talked up "innovations in light weighting and fuel efficiency" for the current VE model's replacement. How far that will go is a mystery, but it's highly unlikely to dip into four-cylinder turbo territory.

Clever money would not be on GM shedding cylinders and adding hairdriers, as Ford has tried with its new EcoBoost Falcon in hope of dragging sales away from mid-size machines by giving good fuel economy without sacrificing the rolling real estate of a large car.

More likely is that the SS, in keeping with its roots, will be more about muscle - although a mix of six and eight cylinder variants would cover more marketplace bases, in much the same way Ford has with its Mustang range.

This global GM love-fest could also bode well for New Zealand and Australia to see factory right hand drive versions of models like the Camaro. It was generally seen as a potential threat to Commodore sales and Holden's two-door Monaro coupe filled the market gap for a while.

Whether or not the Commodore/SS line-up will use variations on Holden's current mix of engine sizes remains to be seen. There is some impressive iron already available across GM's parts bins - and the former Pontiac toybox could work out very nicely - but as emissions restrictions tighten up, so does displacement.

Holden engineering boss Greg Tyus talked up the company's "proven expertise in developing and manufacturing rear wheel drive vehicles", something that has really come of age since the VE's release.

"We were responsible for the design and engineering of the Chevrolet Camaro," said Tyus.

"VE Commodore was sold as the Pontiac G8 and we are currently exporting the Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle - so we understand the needs of the North American market."

He noted that Holden had nearly doubled its exports since last year - the type of branding exercise that saw performance partner HSV selling the ultimate version of the company's workhorse ute, labelled as the Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo, to the UK for over NZ$100,000 - and he even singled out New Zealand as an export market.

"We continue to export our engineering and design capability around the GM world and we have significant vehicle export programs to New Zealand, the Middle East and North America."

Holden's future was swinging in the wind until it signed a deal with Australia's federal, South Australian and Victorian governments to ensure the company kept building cars until at least 2022.

The car industry in Australia had seemed extremely resilient until Mitsubishi's survival plan - the ill-fated 380 - saw the Japanese parent pull the pin in 2008.

Now both General Motors and Ford have something to prove, which may end in one of the two traditional big Aussie sedans following the 380's demise, so the American deal bodes very well for the Commodore's future.

When Driven tested Holden's current top-spec Commodore, it proved to be the best V8 that the Holden itself has ever made.

The entirely separate, but tightly linked, Holden Special Vehicles doing its own thing, and doing it well with big 6.2 litre donks. So, Chev-heads, dare we wish for an HSV-tickled RS?

Just another export market?

New Zealand loves the Commodore, almost adopting the late, great, Peter Brock as a prodigal son until Greg Murphy turned Aussie taxi racing on its ear with the stunning Lap of the Gods.

Murph's smoking-fast run around the mighty Bathurst circuit was a 2m.06.8594s piece of magic during qualifying at Bathurst in 2003 and cemented his place amongst Kiwi race driver royalty.

It's not often that you see any kind of friendliness between teams at Mount Panorama on the big day - especially the day before the Great Race had even started. Nearly every team walked to the pit wall, applauding Murph. And that record stood until Craig Lowndes smashed it seven years later.

As good as it sounds for the big chaps in Detroit to list New Zealand as a helpful export market for Holden, we've been as pivotal to building the brand as most of the states in Australia.

Holden has been distributed here since the abominable FJ arrived in 1953. This is a car that featured vacuum-actuated windscreen wipers, meaning if you drove with heavy right foot, the wipers would slow down, so you had to slow the car down to speed them up again. Exactly.

We survived the FJ - cruel and unusual punishment - so surely New Zealand shouldn't be treated like it had nothing to do with building Holden into what it is today.

Only two of the sunburnt states across the pond actually built the car, the rest did the same as we did and just bought them.

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