Whatever comes next for Holden Special Vehicles, it doesn’t seem set to involve the car that has always been core to its operation.
REPUTATIONALLY forged on race circuits and the fast lane, destined for dirt tracks.
This might be the immediate future for Holden Special Vehicles, with talk it will head into territory, and vehicles it hasn’t considered before, when current Commodore ends production because the new one could be off limits.
Change was always in the wind for the outfit that has, for years, traded on creating a succession of Commodore-based V8 products.
Reports out of Australia suggest the VF II, which ends production on October 20, will be the last Commodore the Clayton, Melbourne, outfit will be allowed to retune.
HSV has yet to comment directly on reports that the incoming NG Commodore, a version of the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, will be off-limits.
Managing director Tim Jackson has said, however, that HSV will release an announcement about its future plans in February. This has been confirmed by HSV NEw Zealand boss Andrew Lamb, who says he has nothing to add to comment that Jackson has given to media across the Tasman.
Jackson has also said he is confident his brand can succeed in a post Australian-built Commodore era.
“There’s no guarantees, but [I’m] pretty confident,” the Caradvice website has reported Jackson as saying.
“I think there’s a job to do. We have to transform the business – that’s the reality – because we’ve had a fairly comfortable existence around building effectively, Australian-built, rear-wheel-drive V8s, and that world’s ending. But we always want to deliver aspirational vehicles, that’s what we do well.”
NG will apparently remain in house with Holden mainly because the German-made and Opel-designed car is not available with a suitable engine.
The most powerful Insignia-based Commodore is a 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6 which outputs 270kW – nowhere special enough to warrant an HSV badge. There’s also talk that Holden is also keen to keep future performance programmes in-house.
So where does that leave HSV? Not about to quit, but having to re-invent itself and face some big changes.
Reports say HSV has signed a five-year deal – that’s half the usual period – to focus on other imported vehicles that are now Holden’s future.
Potentially, Wheels magazine has speculated, the might ultimately mean a car – in the form of a hotted up edition of the yet-to-be seen coupe version of the latest Astra, just about to come on sale here in five-door hatch format followed by a sedan.
In the immediate future, though, HSV’s considerable talents might be directed to creating a performance edition of the Colorado utility and, when it comes toward the end of this year, the Equinox sports utility wagon coming out of North America.
Whether that kind of fare will appeal to a fanbase which has for years been feasting solely on big hunky cars with massive roaring engines and tyre-immolating performance is a question that will only be answered in time.
Certainly, one-tonne utes and SUVs are big business on this side of the Tasman. Holden’s flagship Colorado ZR1 is establishing as one of the more popular variants within that family and the type was the nation’s third favourite one-tonner in 2016, behind Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger. The Ford was also the country’s best-selling vehicle.
The ute sales drive seems to be driven largely by preference to use this kind of vehicle as a kind of SUV-substituting all-rounder. Notwithstanding, SUVs took the lead in 2016 as the singlemost popular vehicle type, outselling traditional roadcars for the first time.
Some purists might say the old HSV is a better way – and, certainly, there’s been a lift in interest locally, with the 214 HSV registrations for 2016 being the best sales performance in four years and a 53 unit increase on 2015.
The brand as we know it is also set to let go of its rich big power heritage with a blast. It’s final V8 offer is the soon-to-be-revealed HSV W1, a 480kW supercharged V8 monster. Lamb says information about that project will be released next month. "There's been a lot of speculation about that issue but nothing has been confirmed yet."
Jackson has made the point in interviews that HSV needs to look at how its customer is changing and moving in order to maintain relevance.
He told the latest edition of Wheels that power was no longer the top priority.
Certainly, as the magazine points out, the shift to dual-cab utes, SUVs and small cars mimics the dramatic change in the overall market that contributed to the demise of the current Commodore and its prime rival, the Ford Falcon, here as much as in Australia.
According to Wheels, Jackson told them: “If we wanted to define our customer as a rear-wheel-drive, Australian-made V8 customer, then we are out of business at the end of the year.
“We can’t define our customer that way. Our customer needs to be that guy looking for an exciting, aspirational vehicle, and that comes in all forms. You only have to look at how significantly the market has changed in the last few years to see exciting vehicles are coming in different forms.”
The magazine has speculated that the brand might maintain a performance edge, pointing out that the recent expansion of the Walkinshaw Group into right-hand-drive conversions of Ram trucks opens the door to local conversions of the Chevrolet Camaro- which is only factory-produced in left-hand-drive.
It believes HSV has been investigating this intensely but Jackson has refused to comment, though he has reportedly hinted a V8 model is on the wish list.