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First drive: Viva kisses Astra Classic bye-bye

Lifeline: Viva is Holden’s route to small-car profitability.

Holden chases sales volume by vying for value-minded buyers with its Viva small car

14 Oct 2005

HOLDEN’S Viva is vying for value-minded buyers with a capital V as it usurps the long-lived TS Astra as the company’s base-level small car.

On sale now and priced from $17,990 for the four-door sedan and five-door hatchback, the Viva is targeting the runaway best-seller, Toyota’s evergreen Corolla – which it undercuts by a hefty $1760.

Other potential Viva victims include the Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Pulsar, Kia Cerato, Mitsubishi Lancer, Suzuki Liana and Proton Gen.2.

A five-door station wagon is also available from $19,490. A four-speed automatic transmission adds $2000 to all variants.

Meanwhile, from $21,990, the Opel-sourced and Belgian-built AH Astra, released in September last year, will continue to combat the premium end of the small car segment led by the Mazda3 and including Ford's Focus.

For now just a single-specification model will be available on all three Viva body varieties.

Included are a five-speed manual gearbox, dual front and front side airbags, air-conditioning, power steering, remote central locking, windows and mirrors, a CD/MP3 player, 15-inch steel wheels and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

Anti-lock brakes, alloy wheels and rear power windows form a $1290 option pack ($1190 on the wagon since the latter is standard anyway).

Power comes courtesy of a 1.8-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine.

Related to the unit servicing all Astras since the 1996 TR, this ageing Family One motor is nonetheless Euro IV emissions-compliant. It musters up 89kW of power at 5800rpm and 169Nm of torque at 3600rpm.

In manual guise the Viva returns 7.4L/100km in the ADR 81/01 fuel consumption rating, 1.4L/100km less than what Holden says the auto offers.

Holden says it isn’t coy about the Viva’s South Korean parenting (it was formally the Daewoo J200 Lacetti/Nubira Mk2) or sourcing (from a plant in Gunsan).

But it is keen to point out the high amount of Australian input in a product from a company (General Motors Daewoo Auto and Technology) that is now predominantly (48.2 per cent) GM owned.

The Viva underwent a 12-month development validation program in Australia so Holden’s engineers could deliver a chassis package that’s more in line with the brand’s reputation.

Curiously, Holden admits that it benchmarked the seven-year-old TS Astra for ride comfort, handling and body control.

For suspension development, prototypes covered 75,000km of varied Australian roads and surfaces. In all the J200 has undergone 791,000km of testing – 582,500km of these in right-hand drive form.

13 center imageStarting with Daewoo Lacetti sold here for 16 months from September 2003, Holden recalibrated the dampers for Australian suitability the coil springs have new rates the anti-roll bars are of a thicker diameter and the tracks are wider by 20mm (front) and 14mm (rear) respectively.

The wheels were enlarged to 15-inches in diameter, the brakes feature a new tandem booster for better performance and feel, and anti-lock brakes are available.

Improved handling and body control, a suppler ride and less road and engine noise intrusion are the upshot, according to Holden.

"The car has turned out how we wanted it to," says the company’s executive director of engineering, Tony Hyde.

Pre-GM, Daewoo commissioned Italians to style the J200 Viva.

Giugiaro of ItalDesign did the hatchback while Pininfarina penned the sedan and wagon – although the latter did undergo extensive GM DAT input.

The Viva hatchback has a sleeker nose than the more upright number shared by the sedan and wagon.

Interestingly, the Viva name isn’t homage to the British Vauxhall Viva series manufactured and sold here in HA form from 1964 to 1967.

An in-house naming session brought up 10, with ‘Vive’ – as in ‘life’ in some languages – topping the list. In fact, the Holden marketing employee who forwarded it didn’t even know about the Vauxhall at that point. The name then evolved to ‘Viva’.

Holden MD Denny Mooney says the Viva’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time now that the small segment leads with 40 per cent of total passenger car sales in Australia – up from 30 per cent last year.

He also pointed to the Corolla’s usurping of the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon for the number one sales spot in September, and this has implications for the large-car segment, which is down to 20 per cent in ’05 from 30 per cent the year before.

Mr Mooney says that the sub-$20,000 end of the small-car market is the largest and that, with the Viva there and Astra in the premium end, Holden will have the entire field covered.

The target is 17,000 Viva sales in 2006, made up of 70 per cent hatchback and the rest evenly split by the sedan and wagon.

Two-thirds will be privately purchased – although it has indicated that fleet managers are very keen on the price and features.

Supply can increase if the market demands more Vivas. Currently 300,000 are produced annually.

Viva is expected to attract three main demographic types: empty-nesters/retirees who don’t need a larger family car anymore families looking for a second vehicle for day-to-day activities and first-time car buyers.

The company says all will be attracted by the low price, high safety features levels such as four airbags, Holden brand and dealer network backup.

Hinting that rivals may drop their prices to match, Holden’s marketing manager for passenger cars, Mr Alan Blazevic, believes that the Viva will influence the small car market.

"Holden will be seen as the one-stop shop for small car buyers," he predicts.

Real Astra kissing

VALE the Holden TS Astra Classic as its South Korean-built replacement, the JF Viva, goes on sale this week.

The crisply styled Opel from Germany (via Belgium then Poland) plucked Holden from perennial small-car also-rans to market movers and shakers just months after its September 1998 launch.

Furthermore, it provided Holden with a much-needed psychological boost – not only hadn’t it had a small-car sales hit since the TE Gemini’s halcyon days of the late 1970s and early '80s, the TS also reversed an embarrassingly conspicuous string of failures that started soon after.

Models from the Nissan-based 1984 LB Astra and Toyota LE Nova Toyota Corolla clone to the 1996 TR Astra were seemingly super-glued to their respective dealer forecourts. Can you even picture these cars? Obviously the TS Astra’s appeal changed all that. More importantly though it also ushered in a higher level of styling, engineering and packaging sophistication to locally sold small cars, forcing rivals to up their ante significantly.

Today’s segment stars like the Corolla, Mazda3, Ford Focus II and even VW Golf V are priced and presented as value-minded premium small car alternatives because the TS Astra would otherwise show them up as overpriced and often under-specified.

But Holden shouldn’t rest on any laurels. Even the AH Astra, for all its space, refinement and dynamic progress over the TS, can’t quite match its predecessor for performance or value for money.

Indeed, after 130,000 sales, the TS Astra deserved its hard-won Classic moniker.

The ex-Daewoo JF Viva may lure just as many buyers with its sensational pricing, but will it be able to carry the TS legacy on? We fear not.

2005 Holden JF Viva pricing:

Viva five-door hatchback: $17,990
Viva five-door hatchback (a): $19,990
Viva four-door sedan: $17,990
Viva four-door sedan: $19,990
Viva five-door wagon: $19,490
Viva five-door wagon: $21,490

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