Shortened life expectancy for next Commodore?

Opel’s new owner appears to have just dropped a bombshell about the ZB Commodore – and the news ain’t good. We seek reaction from Holden NZ’s boss.

“We have agreements – if they change, we will adapt.”

This response to speculation that the incoming ZB Commodore, right, will stay in production for perhaps only four years – that’s half its expected lifespan - and then become something Holden might be denied access to - a Peugeot – has come from the Aussie marque’s New Zealand’s boss.

The probability of this scenario playing out has arisen following a summit last week at which the new owner of Opel, which designed and built the next-gen Commodore coming on sale here in February, appeared to sketch out a gloomy Holden future for the car.

PSA, which bought the German marque from General Motors in March, has indicated it intends to switch to Peugeot platforms as soon as possible. For the Commodore – which is sold in Europe as an Insignia – that means complete replacement in 2021, overseas reports suggest.

Commentators in Australia reckon this could not only well be the end of the line for the ZB, which Holden signed up for when Opel was securely part of the GM family, but also the Commodore nameplate itself.

They conject it would be unlikely the Australian operation would desire – or even be allowed – to sell a Peugeot-based car.

Instead, they suggest, Holden would have to transfer to something from the GM family – and the closest equivalent at present is the Malibu which failed to do well in NZ – or simply abandon the large sedan category altogether.

Holden New Zealand managing director Kristian Aquilina was cautious in responding to this scenario when he talked to MotoringNetwork in New Plymouth tonight at the start of a rolling media introduction to another Holden product, the Equinox crossover.

This GM North America product, sourced, out of Mexico, is the first new Holden since the brand closed down its Australian manufacturing operation last month.

Aquilina says his understanding was always that all Opel product would eventually go to Peugeot platforms.

He indicated it was news to him that PSA has reportedly now said it will make this the top priority and has also signed it now wants Opel to quit the GM legacy as fast as it can.

“I don’t know enough about their latest announcement to know how it affects us directly, if at all, given our existing plans,” Aquilina said.

Asked if he thought the PSA intention could hurt public confidence in the Commodore and affect the ZB launch plan and sales potential, he replied: “I’m not sure people are making buying decisions on conjecture and rumour.

“I can’t wait to show the New Zealand public the new Commodore. It’s a fantastic car.”

He said it went without saying that Opel will change “under new owners.”

“For Opel to succeed under its new ownership it will need to change dramatically. How it affects us locally, and how all that distils into our product plans … it’s premature to comment on that.”

On his confidence about Opel being a long-term supplier to Holden, he said: “We’ve got agreements with Opel that give us line of sight of that. We have some surety of supply.”

He said Holden has previously been given firm insight into the ZB’s expected production life, but would not share that. Most new models stay in production for seven to eight years, with a facelift at mid-point, but if that was the original plan for ZB, he won’t say.

“We know the start and end dates and accordingly we have plans beyond that to ensure we have the right portfolio for New Zealand and Australia.”

He would not confirm or deny that 2021 was an end date.

PSA and Opel have both been through hard times - as a GM brand, Opel was haemorrhaging money for 15 years and Peugeot and Citroen have only turned around to producing profit relatively recently.

It now believes it can do the same for Opel, by 2020, and began to outline how in a spruik last Friday which, perhaps tellingly, made mention of the Vauxhall brand but never directly mentioned Holden.

However, PSA has spelled out that the platform switchover will centre on its CMP and EMP2 underpinnings even though all vehicles will be engineered at Opel’s plant in Rüsselsheim, where the Commodore is now built.

This will reduce the number of platforms in use from nine to two. Powertrain families will reduce from 10 to four, with PSA engines and powertrains favoured. ZB Commodore is built on a GM platform, with GM drivetrains.

The platform change kicks off with the all-new small car Europeans call the Corsa but which we’ve previously known, on and off, as a Barina. The replacement comes in 2019.

Vauxhall and Opel declared losses of $580 million in the second quarter of 2017; daily losses at the firm under GM ownership were estimated to be in the region of $9m on average.

Whether Opel could also now front in NZ in its own right does not seem beyond possibility. PSA says it wants its new holding to represent in 20 new export markets by 2022.