All around the world with Holden

Holden’s new model push seems set to include even more sports utility and crossover cars than has already been cited.

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THOUGHT that another American product and perhaps several from Europe are in the picture to fill Holden’s crossover and sports utility fleet has drawn cautious comment from the brand’s local boss.

Speaking to MotoringNetwork at a domestic media taster of the latest Colorado, where he took opportunity to reassert that more product – refreshes of the Colorado Seven, Trax and Barina plus the new Astra – will progressively launch over the next five months, Holden New Zealand managing director Kristian Aquilina (right) also reinforced that at least a dozen more vehicles will be here by 2020.

Many are mystery picks, but a number are bound to be dirt-flavoured models as Holden headquarters in Melbourne has acknowledged it needs to pick up its SUV game and reinforce a presence currently restricted to Trax (which refreshes in January), Captiva and the Trailblazer, the update of the Colorado Seven arriving on sale here at the end of October.

Industry conjecture is that Holden might be in line to take two cars from Europe - a crossover based on the new Astra and perhaps a smaller model co-developed with Peugeot – plus another American-made car to replace the current Captiva.

The cited favourite is the Chevrolet Equinox, which is slightly smaller than the GMC Acadia, a car-platformed seven-seater car that Holden has already confirmed will be here from 2018.

When asked for comment on this, Aquilina said he knew nothing official about any such proposals but agreed that, with Holden now setting out to take GM product from all the world, anything was possible.

“I haven’t been tuned in to any of that discussion or speculation, so I can’t really comment,” he said.

“That sounds interesting, though.”

These are changing times for GM Holden. On both sides of the Tasman it has embarked on a comprehensive rebranding campaign led by advertising and social media marketing that aims to shift the consumer image of the car-maker.

There are several concerns, one being that it’s missing youth appeal. The recent Spark campaign was one attempt to redress this. Also, there’s the looming issue of Holden now being just over a year out from the closure of its Australian manufacturing operations. The Holden brand will survive, but from 2018 it will be a full-line importer. How will buyers perceive this? The brand admits it is paying close attention to how the motoring public perceives the close-down by Ford Australia, which occurs on October 7 – the same day Holden ends making the Cruze small car across the Tasman.

The answer to keeping consumers interested is to pile in the product. Holden Australia appears to be gagging to fill gaps in its SUV lines. It is citing a poor model spread as a prime reason why it is experiencing record low sales in Australia and is looking to finish 2016 as the No.4 brand – the first time in its history that it has not been a top three player.

Chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard, Aquilina’s boss, recently described the SUV strategy as critical and being key to the brand’s recovery.

Aquilina said Holden was certainly set to massively expand and modernize its passenger offerings over the next four years – in all, it will present 24 new models by the turn of the next decade.

“Everything that GM produces is on the table. There are cars that are already out there that we do not take because we do not believe they are right for New Zealand and there those that are – and we are going after those.”

SUVs are now the dominant choice of bodyshape, accounting for more than 30 percent of new car sales to date this year, and they have been the fastest growing sector.

Bernhard told Australian media recently that “SUVs are the fastest-growing segment of the market and we’re currently under-represented.”

Aquilina has a similar corporate view, but does not think Holden New Zealand is expressly suffering through only having three SUV/crossover passenger products, excluding the Colorado ute, which lists as a commercial offer even though many doublecabs are bought for family use.

However, it would not hurt to have more to fill in between what he called bookend products.

“There’s room for more. By the time we get to 2020 the lineup of three will have turned to five. There are so gaps and obviously there is has to be a lot of attention in those segments because that is where all the growth is occurring.”

Holden’s best-selling SUV is the 2009-born Captiva, which despite being set to be the sector’s oldest offer once the Ford Territory departs next year, is picking up the sales pace after a recent refresh.

Aquilina will not disclose how much longer Captiva is set to be on sale, though industry onlookers suggest the Equinox will not be ready to replace it until 2019.

Holden would probably do well to have the Acadia here now, but it has only just gone on sale in North America.

Also, it is suggested Holden determination to take this vehicle came very late in its development life – so late that GMC engineers are now dedicating to readying it for right-hand-drive, a configuration that was not originally considered, Aquilina said.

Also thought to be in the mix is a compact crossover; Holden has already registered a name, Graphyte, that might well apply to this one.

Could it be an Opel? British media have begun to report that a crossover based off the new Astra passenger car, launching here in December in hatchback format – initially alongside the Cruze that it will fully replace when stocks of the Aussie-made sedan and hatch exhaust around mid-2017 - will be developed to tap into the SUV boom.

This model, which is expected to be created in five and seven-seater form, is seen as a replacement for the Zafira, a conventional MPV whose status has rapidly diminished as consumers world-wide forgo that format for the crossover look.

One twist: Industry observers are also adamant that a smaller crossover to replace the Meriva MPV, another flop never offered here, is already being developed in conjunction with France’s PSA.

The wee one is coming off the platform used by the Peugeot 2008 and Citroen C4 Cactus. There’s also talk of another softie sharing PSA’s EMP2 platform with the new-gen 3008 and 5008 models, both here next year. The GM-PSA partnership will allow engine sharing and also gives GM access to EMP2’s electrification tech, which currently means a plug-in with petrol-driven front wheels and an electric back axle.

Regardless of whatever else arrives it seems clear that Acadia could emerge as a significant performer, given that it will take on two present SUV sector giants – the Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe – plus the newly-launched Mazda CX-9, which also seems destined for greatness.

Acadia only presents with a 3.6-litre V6 petrol, the same engine used by the current Commodore, but it is thought Holden might be pushing for it to be developed with a turbodiesel as well.

When asked if thought this kind of vehicle required a diesel over or as well as a petrol, Aquilina replied: “Not necessarily. We’ve seen in many markets across the world we have seen very successful large SUVs do very good volume with a single powertrain.

“But it’s too early in the piece to be talking about powertrains. That is well into the future.”