HOLDEN, as everybody knows, is currently doing it tough.
The one-time king of the Australian motor industry is languishing with freefalling sales and consumer apathy, as the brand transitions from local manufacturing and the now near-mythical V8s to imported model ranges where just the names are familiar and that’s it.
The ‘Football, Meat Pies, Kangaroos and Holden cars’ jingle of GMH’s ‘70s heyday were simpler times.
Yet there’s something in that jingoistic advertising tagline that Holden can take heart from today. As many people know, its agency back then, George Patterson, borrowed the 1974 ‘Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet’ idea created by American copywriter James Hartzell, and suitably amped it up for our cringingly white VFL/World Series Cricket/Paul Hogan/nubile beach-babes culture of the time.
In that same way, another icon of Americana, the GMC SUV, has been Aussie-fied by Holden for our great land as the Acadia. That this bold seven-seater is the company’s first full-sized offering against the popular Toyota Kluger, Mazda CX-9 and Hyundai Santa Fe – three more models essentially created by and for the USA – is the first tangible signs of hope that there is light at the end of this long and dark tunnel for Australia’s Own.
No stone has been left unturned by Holden in order to give the Acadia the best chance at success in this country. Positioned to gain attention as surely as the brash styling, the Tennessee-built crossover spans six variants – three 2WD (front-drive) and three AWD – in base LT, mid-range LTZ and flagship LTZ-V, from the low-$40,000s up to nearly $68,000. That’s cat among the pigeons pricing right there.
Over a three-year period, Holden down at Fishermans Bend in Melbourne and at Lang Lang in the Victorian capital’s outer eastern fringes retuned the GMC’s suspension and steering, starting with the Continuous Damping Control adaptive dampers that are fitted to the LTZ-V’s standard 20-inch wheel package, as well as helped develop the brilliant new multimedia system and traffic-sign recognition tech, among other things, to create a better beast.
That all this work was carried out concurrently with the Opel Insignia B-based ZB Commodore is no coincidence, either, since both share many elements of the Epsilon II-based transverse architecture that GM dubs ‘C1’ for its larger SUVs, such as the, MacPherson-style struts up front and the basic five-link arrangement out back from the AWD Commodore.
In fact, even the powertrain – the fourth-generation 3.6-litre naturally aspirated direct-injection petrol V6 with start/stop and cylinder-deactivation that helps cut consumption, and mated to a nine-speed automatic – is more or less the same in both vehicles. This, too, was honed and improved by Holden.
Think of the Acadia as the ‘Commodore SUV’ from America and you get the idea.
A lot is riding on the success or otherwise of this seven-seater, as it also heralds Holden’s eventual wholesale move to American GM product. Holden Chairman and managing director, Dave Buttner, has already hinted strongly at such a strategy over the next five years, with models from all GM vehicle divisions including Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac, as well as GMC. And this, of course, includes large as well as medium-sized trucks, including the replacement for the improving Colorado one-tonne pick-up.
“The facts are we can draw on a fantastic stable of SUVs and trucks,” Buttner said.
Obviously, this already started a few years back with the Trax small SUV, and more recently with the Equinox mid-size SUV. But these were not really created with Australia in mind; the difference moving forward is that Holden is getting in at the early planning and discussion stages that are years out from launch now, in order to leave no vehicle option unexplored.
Future models that might arrive with Holden badges include the 2020 Chevrolet Blazer large five-seater SUV, the successor for the Chevrolet Cruze small car (to replace Astra), Camaro muscle car and (fingers crossed) Corvette; we also hear that the next-gen Colorado and Silverado trucks, as well as possibly Cadillac sedans or SUVs, might also be in the mix.
Asked if cherry picking models from brands with quite different design themes or brand positioning might confuse Australian consumers as to what a Holden should look like or aspire to, Buttner revealed that it is more important to select the right vehicle for the right market.
“The fact that we can draw on a world of cars from different brands, (we ask ourselves) ‘What’s the best vehicle for this segment?’”, he said.
“So, when we looked at (the large seven-seater SUV segment the new Acadia is competing in against the Kluger), we felt this was a big bold vehicle, a GMC product that in this market would suit the market, while the Equinox is a Chevy product that suits the segment it competes in.”
Will the American strategy work for Holden? Buttner again:
“When we had our (Acadia) dealer launch with dealers in from all around in Australia… and dealers have been around a long time and they understand product with a second sense of what’s going to attract people to their showroom and what’s going to sell, and two-a-person they are so excited about this vehicle.
“I am quite excited after being up (at GM HQ in Detroit) speaking to the head of design and the head of engineering about the amount of work that’s going on inside GM that they are a force to be reckoned with in the future.
“I am really very excited with what I saw.”
So, what does all this mean for the existing Astra and Commodore models out of Europe? When they were developed, Opel was GM-owned, but now PSA Peugeot Citroen of France is in charge, so the most likely scenario when their respective contracts run out in 2023 is that they won’t be renewed.
An end of an era, perhaps, but the beginning of something new too. Watch this space.