01 April 2009

Holden Celebrates 60 Years as “Australia’s Own”

OUT There 58 - All Torque

Roderick Eime reviews the Lion’s progress.

Before General Motors Holden re-occupied their factory at Fishermen’s Bend after the Second World War, the product was flying out the door at 500mph.

During the desperate days of WWII, Fishermen’s Bend was turning out Beauforts and Beaufighers and developing the superior interceptor, the CA-15 Kangaroo. But with the end of war in sight, it was decided that Australia should develop its own car and the 48-215 (FX) was born inside the war machine.

The stylish, American-designed 6-seater was an instant best seller and now, 60 years later, Holden’s mainstay is still the country’s top selling sedan. Commodore first hit the streets in 1978 (VB), borrowing designs, not from the USA, but from European sibling, Opel. The venerable 202ci (3.3 litre), six cylinder engine still owed much of its technology to the original 132ci (2.15 litre) six in the 1948 FX.

The clunky 202 finally gave way to a silky smooth Nissan-sourced 3-litre SOHC six for the 1986 VL model. In 1988, the all-new top-to-bottom VN Commodore was released powered by the Buick 3.8 litre V6. The old-tech pushrod design drew murmurs from the critics, but the new Commodore was just the weapon Holden needed to counter its main rival, the Ford Falcon. By 1996, the Commodore was back on top and that’s where it has stayed.

Sales figures for 2008 released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries show Australians purchased a total of 51,093 vehicles from the VE Commodore range.

Apart from the Kingswood-Commodore mainstay Holden, through GM international family brands Isuzu, Opel, Vauxhaul and Chevrolet, have introduced a wide variety of vehicles into the Australian market. From tiny Barinas to the gargantuan Suburban and Hummers, the range has had a model to suit all tastes and budgets.

Rural buyers have always been loyal to the Red Lion, buying utes, sedans and workhorses like the Rodeo. From 1980, the Isuzu-built Rodeo has been a popular 2WD and 4WD cab and trayback model for farm and trade work. In 2008, Holden introduced the Colorado model, based on the new generation Isuzu D-Max. In something of a marketing and branding shuffle, Isuzu D-Max utes will now also be sold and serviced separately through a new, independent dealership network.

In the dedicated 4WD and SUV market, Holden pinned its fortunes on the dainty Jackaroo for twenty years. Another rebadged Isuzu product known elsewhere in the world as Trooper and Monterey, it was discontinued in 2003. The AWD Adventra (Commodore) filled the gap uneasily until the introduction of Captiva in 2006.

Built by GM subsidiary Daewoo, the Captiva was inspired by the Chevrolet S3X concept unveiled at motor shows around the world in 2004. The style thematic is common across modern urban SUVs such as Honda’s CRV, Audi X3 and Volvo XC60 giving it a contemporary and sophisticated look. Today’s Captiva is certainly a long way removed from the early bouncy, boxy Jackaroos.

The man on the land, this land in particular, invariably has long distances to travel. Cruisey sedan-based, long wheelbase limousines like the Statesman have been a part of the Holden line-up since the legendary HQ was introduced in 1971. To counter the market domination by Ford’s Fairlane, Statesman added three inches to the wheelbase with most of the space dedicated to rear passenger legroom.

Statesman (and the up-rated Caprice) has always occupied the position of flagship in the Holden passenger range. The latest incarnation (WM) appeared in 2006. Powered by the current 3.6 litre V6 and 6.0 litre V8, the model is exported and rebadged under Buick, Daewoo and Chevrolet to such markets as Korea, China and the Middle East. As of Januray 2009, the V8 range will feature new Active Fuel Management (AFM) technology. Known elsewhere as “cylinder deactivation”, the system will cut fuel to four cylinders under light load to improve fuel efficiency.

Holden’s crystal ball shows a new small car production line planned for Adelaide in 2010 that will give the Australian automotive industry a new focus and pave the way for alternate fuel technologies like LPG, ethanol blends and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).

To recall Henry Ford’s famous quote; “You can have any colour you like as long as it’s black.” It seems GM green is the new black.

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