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Holden eyes reinforcements for SUV assault

Sonic: The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic may form the basis for a small Holden SUV.

Small crossover and rugged 4x4 wagon under consideration by Holden alongside Captiva

18 Feb 2011

HOLDEN is looking to triple its SUV range from one model – the Captiva – to three in the next two years to cover more bases in Australia’s fast-growing and constantly splintering SUV market.

A small compact crossover and a rugged 4WD wagon with underpinnings from the next Colorado are on the agenda at Fisherman’s Bend as part of GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux’s plan for 10 new models in 20 months.

While arch rival Toyota has no fewer than six entrants in the SUV market, ranging from the compact RAV4 to the Lexus LX570, Holden has covered the compact and medium SUV bases with the Captiva by serving up two variants, the five-seat Captiva 5 (formerly Maxx) and seven-seat Captiva 7.

In the past, Holden has fielded a range of SUVs, from the Isuzu-based Jackaroo and Frontera and Commodore-based Adventra, to Suzuki-based compacts such as the Drover and original Cruze.

All of them have withered and died for various reasons, leaving the Korean-built Captiva to carry Holden’s crossover vehicle aspirations since being introduced to the Australian market in 2006.

And while Captiva has been hugely successful, rising to become the best-selling crossover vehicle in the market and out-pointing both Ford’s Territory and Toyota’s Kluger while also drawing buyers from the compact segment, Holden’s product planners want to cover the emerging growth in the baby SUV end of the market while also giving their rural and provincial dealers a serious off-road wagon.

The last such body-on-frame Holden wagon was the Jackaroo and its Monterey twin, which went to automotive heaven in 2002.

13 center imageFrom top: Isuzu MU-7, Holden Colorado, Holden Frontera and Holden Rodeo.

At the other end of the scale, Holden dipped its toe in the water with the Suzuki Ignis-based YG Cruze mini SUV between 2002 and 2006, with minimal impact.

As GoAuto reported in November, Holden’s parent company General Motors is said to be working on a small SUV in the mould of the Mitsubishi ASX or Nissan Dualis.

The basis for the new vehicle is said to be GM’s Gamma II architecture that is about to spawn the 2012 Holden Barina, its American cousin, the Chevrolet Sonic, and Chevrolet Aveo to be sold in Europe, China and elsewhere.

The mini SUV is believed to be under development at GM Korea, where it is also likely to go into production after the Barina/Aveo is launched in early 2012.

As Holden’s Captiva 5 is at the large end of the compact SUV market, the company has plenty of room beneath it to market a smaller, more affordable SUV.

At the same time, the Captiva 7 is at the small end of the medium segment, against rivals such as Toyota’s Kluger and Ford’s Territory, meaning Holden has no answer to the more serious off-roaders built on rigid ladder chassis for outback driving.

For this, Holden has its eyes on a body-on-frame 4x4 being developed in conjunction with GM’s new Colorado, in the same way that the 1990s Frontera came off the original Rodeo platform that was itself a spin off from an Isuzu architecture.

A descendent of that wagon, the MU-7/Alterra, is still made and sold under Isuzu badges in Thailand and exported to other Asian markets such as the Philippines.

Powered by a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, the seven-seat MU-7 is offered in rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive configurations.

The new Colorado is again being developed in conjunction with Isuzu to be shared as its next-generation D-Max ute, although Isuzu sources told GoAuto that commonality of components and design would be reduced this time around as both companies want to go their own way in the wake of the split up between GM and Isuzu.

The two vehicles are already built at separate plants in Thailand, where GM is building a new four-cylinder engine plant to make 2.5-litre and 2.8-litre engines, presumably for vehicles such as the new-generation Colorado and its SUV wagon spin-off.

Although sales volumes for a new-age Frontera would be small, it would answer the prayers of dealers in the country where city-slicker crossovers based on car platforms can’t always cut it.

To some extent, crew-cab 4x4 Colorado utes – and the Rodeo before them – have helped to cover the demand, but a wagon with proper seating for up to seven would still find homes where the going is tough.

It would give these dealers an answer to Nissan’s Pathfinder and Mitsubishi’s Challenger, both of which have been spun off a ute base, the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton respectively.

More importantly, it would take the fight up to Ford which is now working in Australia on the design and engineering of a similar wagon from its T6 architecture that underpins the new Ford Ranger ute.

Such a vehicle would also give Holden another export outlet for its Port Melbourne-made V6 engines, with potential for E85 ethanol and LPG Autogas alternative fuel applications alongside the usual diesel offerings.

One Holden insider indicated that the Colorado-based SUV was not yet signed off for Australia, but added: “If it is already there, then why not.”

Despite the success of the Holden Captiva, which last month became the top-selling SUV in the land – even outselling the Toyota Prado – Holden last year secured only 6.6 per cent of the SUV market, well short of its 12.8 per cent overall share.

King of the SUV mountain was Toyota, with 22.7 per cent – higher than its overall market share of 20.7 per cent – followed by Nissan (10.1 per cent), Subaru (9.2 per cent) and Mitsubishi (8.5 per cent).

Last year, the SUV market grew 25 per cent to 235,285 vehicles, with compact SUVs generating the most growth, up 36.6 per cent.

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