Holden’s last hurrah
In the dying days of Australia’s car manufacturing industry and propped up by taxpayer generosity, General Motors Holden has produced yet another version of yesterday’s car.
The VFII Commodore will be the last built on home soil. When the final vehicle rolls of the Elizabeth assembly line in South Australia in 2017, a long and illustrious manufacturing history that began in 1978 with the VB Commodore will be at an end.
So how is General Motors marking the end of the era?
With a big, brash, brazen muscle car that can reach 100 kilometres an hour in less time than it takes to read this paragraph. Impressed? Well there’s more.
According to General Motors, the new 6.2 litre V8 engine is the most powerful in Holden’s history, delivering 570 Nm of torque and 304 kW of horsepower. (In laymen’s terms, torque is what gets the car moving and horsepower is what maintains the speed.)
The 6.2 litre V8 has torque and power in spades.
The VFII has received rave reviews around the country and it’s hard not to like it, if only because it’s the last of its kind. But is this a car for the average punter?
No, the VFII is unapologetically a car for the Commodore devotee and anyone who wants a seriously fast street machine at an affordable price.
The Commodore V8 range starts at $40,990 for the six-speed manual SS utility. For $53,990 you can buy the performance flagship, the very flash LS3 V8 SSV Redline, which doubtless will appeal to collectors of Australiana and speculators with spare cash and garage space.
While the upfront cost of the VFII is relatively modest, maintaining all that muscle and might comes at a cost.
The VFII is a thirsty beast, consuming close to 13 litres of petrol per 100 km. A cheap suburban runabout it is not.
Although the VFII pulls at the heartstrings of the Holden faithful, General Motors has demonstrated yet again why it has become irrelevant in the highly competitive Australian market.
Fleet buyers abandoned General Motors years ago and families have moved on, too. They want fuel efficiency and overall refinement, which is why sales of small hatchbacks and SUVs have gone through the roof.
The VFII is a curious choice for a company that has been on taxpayer-funded life support for a very long time.
In December 2013, when General Motors announced it would cease domestic manufacture in 2017, it had received $2.1 billion in industry support over the previous 12 years.
It has received millions more since, but all this money has failed to stem the balance sheet bleed. General Motors continues to report crippling losses and poor sales figures.
Against this backdrop, General Motors has delivered the VFII, with its narrow market appeal, doubtful environmental credentials, and an engine that is more suited to the race track than the suburban road.
Commodore fans may love it, but the taxpayer deserves better.
While General Motors has built a big, heavy performance car, other leading car manufacturers are focused on sophistication, refinement, and innovation.
Big engines are being replaced by smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, without sacrificing power.
Fuel economy is front and centre internationally. The US is imposing tough fuel efficiency standards from 2016. By 2025, fuel efficiency targets will be doubled in the US.
One European manufacturer is currently researching the roadside behaviour of kangaroos with a view to tailor-making vehicular safety features for the Australian market.
The latest Commodore is without doubt an attention-grabbing muscle machine. But for all the billions in industry support, there is not much in it for anyone other than the true believer.
Commodore has had quite a life
It all began in 1978 when the original Holden Commodore replaced our beloved Kingswood. The Commodore struggled against Ford Falcon, its major competitor, through most of the 1980s.
The VN model, released in 1988, heralded the start of a purple patch for the Holden Commodore.
Its V6 motor was quick off the mark and the VN helped Holden reclaim some of the ground it had lost to arch rival Falcon.
During the next 10 years, the Commodore and the Falcon battled it out for top sales spot.
In 1997, General Motors released the VT model.
With its sleek and sophisticated styling, it kicked the Falcon of the day right out of the ball park. The VT was the biggest selling Commodore of all time, with 303,895 manufactured over three years.
Then in came the VE Commodore in 2006. It was a genuine Australian car that had cost a bomb to design, develop and manufacture.
The VE was to form the basis of an expanded range of Holden cars, but the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and plans for expansion were shelved.
Around the same time, consumer sentiment began to shift to SUVs and smaller cars. Tariffs were low, the dollar was strong, and foreign cars also became attractive.
The VF Commodore, a seriously updated version of the VE, was introduced in 2013.
The VF Mark II went on sale in October 2015.
Some key figures:
• Commodore was Australia’s top-selling car for 15 consecutive years from 1996 to 2011.
• Commodore has had 22 victories at Bathurst.
• 1998 was Commodore’s biggest year, with 94,642 cars sold.
• More than 3.1 million Commodores have been made to date.
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