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Three of a kind: Holden's new ute range includes the SS (front), the fastest Commodore ever.

Look out Falcon, Holden's new VU utility range has got you in its sights

13 Dec 2000

HOLDEN will attempt to end Ford's domination of the utility market with its first brand new Ute in a decade - the VU.

Due to go on sale in January, the VU is available in three specifications - the base model Ute, the S and the fire-breathing SS with the 225kW Gen III V8, which Holden quietly concedes is the fastest Commodore it has ever built.

Developed from the Commodore VT/VX wagon platform but with 81 new body components, the VU is designed less as a working commercial vehicle and more as a young Aussie male's performance car with load-carrying capacity - an aim most obviously targetted with the aggressive SS.

To that end the VU's advertising launch will be accompanied by the hard rock sounds of veteran Aussie band AC/DC. The song? Thunderstruck - appropriate enough in the SS's case.

A lot of promotion will also be built around 2001 being the Holden Ute's 50th anniversary. Holden has spent $80 million developing the VU and preparing the Elizabeth plant for production.

Holden has decided not to pursue Ford for the hard-core tradesmen's' dollar. There's no cab-chassis, no one-tonner, no aluminium tray and no supercab for extended interior space. The VU is of a car-like monocoque construction.

Holden large car marketing manager John Elsworth said 10,000 VUs should be sold in 2001, with the Ute and S accounting for about 40 per cent each and the SS the other 20 per cent. To the end of November this year just 5905 VSIII Utes had been sold, compared to 12,388 AU/AUII Falcons.

"Ford should sell 7000-8000 utes and about 3600 cab-chassis next year," Mr Elsworth said. "So we will outsell their ute.

"They have done a pretty good job, they have a more diverse product range than we will ever have because ours is a fair-dinkum car-based ute, we haven't taken the chainsaw to the car." Holden is also investigating export possibilities in Brazil, the Middle East and South Africa.

The five-speed manual transmission Ecotec V6 Ute kicks off pricing at $23,330, with the S at $27,690. Add $710 for the four-speed automatic option in either. The SS is $36,490 in either six-speed manual or four-speed auto forms.

Pricing is lineball between Ute and Falcon XL, the S has a significant dollar advantage over XR6 while SS is around $1000 more expensive than XR8. All three cars have a CD player, six-function trip computer, driver's airbag and seatbelt pretensioners.

The S adds a tailored soft tonneau cover, 16- inch alloy wheels and power windows, and the SS 17-inch alloys, front fog lamps and sports suspension - among other things.

Air-conditioning and a passenger's airbag are standard only with the SS.

The Holden VU Ute has been a long time coming. The car's styling was signed off just before the launch of the VT Commodore sedan back in 1997, but the higher volume left-hand drive export program got in the way, in the end setting its debut back about 12 months.

PRICING Ute V6 Manual $23,330 Ute V6 Automatic $24,040 S V6 Manual $27,690 S V6 Automatic $28,400 S V8 Manual $34,520 S V8 Automatic $34,520 SS V8 Manual $36,490 SS V8 Automatic $36,490

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