Holden is on a mission to put the Commodore back on shopping lists with a new model that has “everything you would ever want in a car”.
The result of millions of dollars and four years’ work, the VF Commodore aims to match world standards for technology, luxury and refinement with a swag of features previously available only on imported cars.
It also brings fuel-efficiency improvements of up to 8 per cent, to counter concerns over running costs, and reduced prices across the range, with entry cars cut by $5000 to about $35,000 and luxury variants slashed by $10,000.
The VF, which reaches dealerships next month, arrives 35 years after the first VB Commodore replaced the Kingswood as Holden’s flagship family sedan in 1978.
It marks the first substantial upgrade of the VE Commodore launched in 2006 and comes as a fog of doubt surrounds the future of local carmaking.
Holden has committed to building two cars in Australia until 2022, after Canberra and state governments pledged $275 million last year, and one of them is the next generation of its small car, the Cruze.
Holden has said the Commodore nameplate will live on but the VF is widely expected to be the last example designed as a large rear-wheel-drive sedan as demand for the traditional format plummets.
However, Holden chairman Mike Devereux, who was in Canberra yesterday to launch the VF, denied the end was nigh for large cars.
“They’re wrong, just look around the world. The reason why this debate gets exacerbated in this country is because of the abnormal dominance that one type of car had, unlike any other market on the planet.”
An imported small car – the Mazda 3 – ended the Commodore’s 15-year reign as the nation’s favourite vehicle two years ago but Mr Devereux said the goal for the VF was to secure a place in the top 10.
“Regardless how big or small the large-car segment is we’re going to deliver a car that can be a top 10 car in this country,” he said.
“We need to – we need that volume,” Devereux said.
The VF aimed to move away from a reliance on fleets, which have accounted for three-quarters of Commodore sales in the past, and towards private buyers, he informed.
“There’s a level of refinement and finesse that we have not offered people before,” he said. “We’re asking the car to do a different job for us now,” he said.
Families would continue to buy SUVs but “with the technology that’s in the car, with fuel-efficiency that’s better than some four-cylinder cars, we’re offering families what they need,” he said
To save weight and hit its efficiency targets, the VF features the first aluminium pressings in a locally made Holden and reducing mass was a focus of the engineering effort.
Combined with aerodynamic changes evident in the redesigned front and rear, the base model, renamed Evoke, achieves 8.3 litres per 100km from its 3.0-litre V6.
The drivelines themselves, which include a 3.6-litre V6 and a 6.0-litre V8, are largely unchanged but all models are more efficient thanks to average weight savings of 43kg.
The reduction target was much higher to allow for extra equipment, which includes a reversing camera and automated parking on every model, much more sophisticated control software and a complete suite of electronic safety systems on top-flight cars.
These include a blind-spot warning system and reversing radar that warns of cars approaching from the side when reversing.
Calais models have a lane-departure warning system and collision alert, which prompts the driver if the car in front is too close.
The result is a car with a five-star safety rating, according to Australia’s crash-testing body, ANCAP, and “the safest Commodore ever”, according to Holden.
Lifting the interior luxury level was another goal and soaked up much of the development budget, which is thought to be about half the $1 billion spent on the VE.
“There are a hell of a lot more reasons to buy one now because it has everything you would ever want in a car – everything,” Devereux said.
VF production started at Holden’s Adelaide factory on Monday.
It comes just weeks after Holden announced 400 redundancies at the plant and a further 100 among its engineering ranks.
Holden expects a boost in sales of the VF with prices starting at $34,990 for Evoke to $59,990 for a Caprice V Series V8, $10,000 below its previous price.
Last year Adelaide output was just 82,000 cars against a target of 90,000-plus, but demand will be boosted by increased exports to the US, where the VF will be sold in V8 form as the Chevrolet SS.