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Holden Commodore D-day looms

What next: The basis for Holden's next-generation Commodore is up for grabs as General Motors weighs up options - including front-wheel drive - for the Aussie large car.

Front-wheel drive on agenda for Holden Commodore as GM mulls alternatives

10 Dec 2010

GM HOLDEN chairman and managing director Mike Devereux has confirmed that a decision on the architecture for the next-generation Commodore due by 2015 will be made “fairly soon”.

Mr Devereux said Holden was “bullish” about a rear-drive platform for the car, although he stopped short of committing to a continuation of the traditional layout for Australia’s top-selling car for the past 15 years.

General Motors insiders have told GoAuto that in the long term, a rear-drive platform is not a certainty for the top-selling Australian car, with rival engineering groups within GM canvassing more fuel-efficient front-drive/all-wheel-drive alternatives for GM’s Commodore-style large cars.

One source confirmed that discussions about a switch to front-wheel drive have been on the table, but another suggested that any potential switch was unlikely to happen until a later model, with the 2015 generation continuing with rear-drive.

“I think those discussions (about front-wheel drive) are further out,” the Holden insider said.

A switch to front-wheel drive could mean that both of Australia’s indigenous large cars, the Commodore and Ford Falcon, could end up on front-drive platforms at some point, with all-wheel-drive alternatives for high-performance models.

Ford is expected to make its own decision on the next Falcon by the end of 2011 – a likely similar time frame to GM’s 2015 Commodore deadline. The American-designed Ford Taurus, with front- and all-wheel-drive powertrains, is said to be one of the vehicles that could underpin the next Falcon.

Front-drive possibilities for the Holden Commodore include GM’s so-called Super Epsilon 2 platform for full sized cars that is expected to provide the base for the next Chevrolet Impala, Buick Park Avenue and Cadillac XTS.

13 center imageFrom top: Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Caprice PPV, Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux.

The Super Epsilon architecture is said to be a wider and longer version of the Opel-engineered Epsilon design used under the Opel Insignia, Buick Regal and Saab 9-3.

The Holden assessment process for the next Commodore is in full swing, four years ahead of the likely start of production in 2015 at Holden’s Elizabeth plant in South Australia.

Holden is keen to sit the next Commodore on a new generation of its Australian-engineered Zeta global rear-drive platform. The current version underpins not only the VE Commodore but derivatives such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle.

American car magazine Motor Trend says a new Zeta rear-drive architecture in both short and long-wheelbase variants has been given the tick of approval within GM, but says it will be aimed at up-market vehicles such as a new rear-drive Cadillac and a Chevrolet “four-door Camaro”.

GM’s global engineering and manufacturing management teams have all visited Holden’s Port Melbourne headquarters in recent weeks to discuss large car architectures, and presumably hear what Holden engineers, designers and sales and marketing executives have in mind.

But some teams visiting the Holden HQ are also said to be lobbying Holden to convince it to adopt their front-drive platforms, extolling the potential fuel savings of the lighter transaxle design over a rear-drive layout.

Fuel economy improvement is a key target of GM worldwide, with “light weighting” the buzz term.

While Mr Devereux indicated a decision on the next Commodore was due in “two to three months”, saying “we have some architectural decisions we have to make”, a Holden insider suggested that did not mean the final call would be made in that time frame.

Speaking in Melbourne at an end-of-year briefing for journalists, Mr Devereux said GM was “very bullish about large rear-drive cars that can tow”.

“We had our global engineering team here a couple of weeks ago and we have had our global manufacturing team here this week, and they can’t believe the incidence of having a hitch – what we call a tow bar – on the back of a sedan is here,” he said.

“It is a very unusual thing – you don’t see it in the United States. We (Americans) have SUVs to do that in the United States.

“Commodore is a very unique vehicle in that it can tow – it is a very big package heading to very good fuel economy levels.” Mr Devereux said Holden was aiming for 8.4 litres per 100km fuel economy for Commodore – down from the current 9.1L/100km of the 3.0-litre V6 Commodore Omega – the most fuel-efficient current Commodore variant.

“We have been talking with people about what we would do with turbo-charging Commodore or smaller engines and what not,” he said.

“Through our light-weighting (weight reduction) of this program, we should get down to 8.4 litres per 100km.” But Mr Devereux later told GoAuto that the lower fuel economy target could be achieved within two years – in the life of the current Commodore.

This indicates that Holden is set to rework the current Commodore in about 2012 or 2013, potentially with lighter construction and a small-capacity turbo V6 tuned for fuel economy using similar technology to its new super-efficient 1.4-litre Cruze four-cylinder engine due in February.

Holden already makes turbo-charged V6s for Saab, Opel and Cadillac at its Port Melbourne engine plant, although these 2.8-litre engines are primarily tuned for high performance in cars such as the Saab 9-5 and 9-4X, Opel/Vauxhall Insignia VRX and Cadillac SRX.

In the more immediate term, Holden is set to introduce a dedicated LPG version of its Commodore, replacing the current petrol/LPG dual fuel set-up in October 2011, along with an E85 ethanol-capable version of its premium 3.6-litre V6 about the same time.

Currently, E85 can only be used in the current 3.0-litre V6 and 6.0-litre V8 engines introduced in the recent VE2 upgrade.

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