Speculation fuels Holden’s V8 drive

Holden New Zealand is steering carefully around latest talk about what kind of V8-powered car – or cars – it will offer beyond 2017.


RENEWED speculation about Holden’s apparent intention to ultimately front up with a direct foil for the Ford Mustang has provoked cautious comment from the brand’s New Zealand boss.

The potentials seem to be to either offer a version of the Chevrolet Camaro, right, or develop a Holdenised version of the Buick Avista show car, seen at this year’s Detroit motor show. The Avista is the blue car seen with this story.

Both are based off a brand-new, aluminium-intensive platform called the Alpha – but could there be a third contender also off that underpinning?

According to a major Australian media outlet, Holden has also developed an Alpha-based concept. This study has never left the Fishermans’ Bend design studio.

The GoAuto website reckons the Aussie-shaped Alpha car provide clues to what kind of performance weapon is coming once Holden finishes car-building and becomes an import brand.

However, it also suggests a re-configured Camaro isn’t off the table, quoting lead Holden designer Michael Simcoe – since 2014 General Motors International Operations design vice-president - as suggesting the American model might still be in the picture regardless that the latest was engineered specifically for left-hand-drive. The previous car, on the other hand, was off the Zeta platform also used by the VE Commodore.

The latest round of speculation has emerged since Holden New Zealand managing director Kristian Aquilina and his boss, Holden Australia managing director and chairman Mark Bernhard, suggested in a meeting with New Zealand media on March 8 that current performance ambitions will continue after the Adelaide plant shuts up shop at the end of 2017.

Neither men would be drawn at that meeting on what opportunities were likely when asked how Holden planned to fuel that demand after VF.

Said Bernhard: “We’ve announced already that there will be a next-generation Commodore … at this point we have not announced what that will be or what powertrains will be.”

Reminded that the general media feeling is that it’s probable the choice will be the new-generation of the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, still under development, he stuck to a familiar company line reaction in replying: “That’s what the media has speculated, yes.”

Is this just word games? Opel has made clear their car will continue primarily as a front-drive model, but with a four-wheel-drive flagship variant. The top engine will be a V6.

At that point Aquilina added that Holden has also previously announced a sports car is also in the pipeline.

“That should satisfy some of that demand.”

So is that where the V8 direction is aimed? Answered Bernhard: “I’m probably not going to be drawn into that, at this stage.”

So was Holden Australia looking at how the Ford Mustang sold as a pointer for where its own direction should go?

“Mustang has really gone through the roof here … it’s (the idea) something well worth looking at. But I’m not going to get drawn into this.”

The Avista is a two-plus-two grand tourer. It presumably could take a V8 though it was displayed with a 3.0-litre, 298 kiloWatt twin-turbo V6 driving the rear wheels via an eight-speed transmission. If put into production, it would be the first rear-drive Buick in almost 20 years.

The concept is the work of GM’s Detroit styling studio – however GM acknowledges the design language is an extension of the Avenir concept Buick depbuted at the 2014 show. Avenir was created in Holden’s studio.

Today Aquilina reinforced that an eight-cylinder rear-drive performance model would certainly suit the NZ market condition beyond 2017.

“Given Kiwi interest in V8s, I see a future niche market opportunity for Holden in New Zealand beyond the current Commodore offering.”

Holden NZ has certainly noticed a significant lift in V8 sales; perhaps driven not just by the low price of petrol but also by increased customer awareness in the Commodore SS-V Redline, with recognition it’s a last blast by the Australian maker. The factory’s performance flagship also packs an alluring engine in the 304kW and 570Nm 6.2-litre LS3 V8.

Aquilina assured this model will remain on sale right through to the end of days for VF.

“Yes, the SS-V Redline will remain an important part of the range to the very end of the current generation of Commodore, which coincides with the end of production in Australia.”

And then?

“After that, we'll launch of the next generation, all-new Commodore range.”

“Timing of the next V8 performance car from Holden has not yet been revealed, and I'm not going to be the one who announces it!” Aquilina laughed when pressed further today.

Meantime, the Australian national confirmed last week that some New Zealanders outside of Holden NZ have been given a heads up about the next Commodore.

It’s the Government procurement agency responsible for buying police cars. Aquilina says their officials have been briefed about the next Commodore, but have not yet seen it. The NZ Police have for years been the biggest single customer for the car.

Aquilina says Holden determined to allow the insight because the latest patrol car tender process, conducted last year and won by Holden, was to supply cars into a period that stretched beyond when VF Commodore falls out of production.

“The current Commodore is one of many cars that they buy from us, but it is the main one. We had to give them some assurance with what was to follow. They are comfortable with the information they have received so far.”

He confirmed that the intent is to have the next Commodore on sale – and in police duty - as soon as the current one departs.

“Once the next-gen Commodore is available it will be available as a police car from the get-go. Notwithstanding there is a fair bit of water to go under the bridge between now and then, the objective would be just to transition from one (VF) to the other.”