Commodore v Falcon: The final chapter

words - Marton Pettendy
Two Aussie automotive icons get set to go out with a bang as Holden and Ford ready their best and last big indigenous models

This is the story Holden and Ford don’t want told – yet. It’s the story of two homegrown Australian heavyweights entering their final bout in the twilight of their celebrated careers over the next year or so, before both larger-than-life automotive icons hang up their gloves for good by 2018.

What happens after that isn’t entirely clear... Even less so in the case of Ford, which is yet to commit to manufacturing anything Down Under beyond 2016.

But what is certain is that if either symbol of Australia’s motoring landscape – Holden’s 34-year-old Commodore or Ford’s 52-year-old Falcon nameplates - continues into the next decade, they will grace localised versions of global models. And only the Falcon remains a chance for local production.

In March, GM Holden effectively confirmed the end of the line for Holden’s Adelaide-made Commodore when it committed to a billion-dollar program involving two new model lines based on two next-generation global vehicle architectures after securing $275 million in government funding, guaranteeing it will build vehicles in Australia until at least 2022.

Holden has since revealed its first all-new model line will be the second-generation Cruze small car, due by the end of 2015. While the second model line remains the subject of speculation, it now appears likely the Commodore will be replaced in the company’s South Australian plant by an SUV – perhaps the next-generation Captiva.

That’s because Holden has repeatedly said its second local model will need to be a top-ten seller and GM has announced an all-new global chassis architecture dubbed D2XX will replace both the existing Cruze’s Delta II underpinnings and the current Captiva’s Theta platform.

GM Holden Managing Director Mike Devereux has confirmed to motoring.com.au that passenger car and SUV derivatives of the D2XX platform would constitute two separate global architectures, and when we pointed out that Australia’s ten best-selling models included small cars, utes and the Commodore – but no SUVs – he replied “not yet”, supporting widespread forecasts that SUV sales will continue to boom both here and overseas.

Land Rover, for example, expects the worldwide SUV market to top 20 million annual sales by 2020 and, while Australian large-car sales have plummeted a further 20 per cent this year, total SUVs sales have grown faster than any other vehicle type, easily eclipsing small cars as Australia’s most popular vehicle type.

Meantime, Ford confirmed years ago that the existing Falcon will be the last to be produced on an indigenous Australian-designed ‘orphan’ platform but, unlike Holden, has promised to continue to offer a model in what it still regards as an important large-car segment.

Whether the next all-new Falcon – if that’s what it’s called - is made in Melbourne or imported remains the elephant in the room for Ford, however, and there is certainly no guarantee that one of the Ford world’s oldest existing nameplates will continue beyond the upcoming model series.

So for the time being this story concerns two heavily upgraded large cars that will be revealed within about 12 months, before they grace dealer forecourts over the following five years.

In a remarkable co-incidence – or some might say omen - both big new sedans (and wagon, ute and limousine derivatives, in the case of the Commodore), will be released around the same time as two all-new mid-size models from both US brands, with the Commodore and Malibu both due on sale by mid-2013 and the 2014 Falcon and redesigned Mondeo both expected within six months or so in early 2014.


COMMODORE COMETH
GM has indirectly already begun the reveal campaign for Holden’s next and final Commodore, which will form the basis of a short-wheelbase US export version for the first time since Pontiac and its popular G8 sedan were axed as part of bankruptcy restructuring plans following the 2008 GFC.

This time, however, in a cunning plan concocted by GM North America President Mark Reuss and Chevrolet’s US sales chief Alan Batey, who headed up Holden prior to 2010, the Commodore’s American twin will wear a Chevy badge. The ‘SS’ showroom model will be backed not only by about 3000 Chevrolet dealerships but a billion-dollar NASCAR program in which lookalike racecars will attempt to ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’.

Instead of continuing with its Impala, which will also be new for 2014 (but still a front-drive V6), Chevrolet made the radical decision to contest the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the imported Chevy SS – its first rear-drive V8 production sedan in 17 years

Instead of racing its upcoming Malibu mid-size sedan, Chevrolet will battle against its direct showroom rivals in Toyota’s Camry and Ford’s Fusion (Mondeo) with the two-door Chevy SS NASCAR, which under the new-for-2013 rules demanded by car-makers will resemble its road-going cousin more closely than ever.

In a weird co-incidence, Chevrolet will also enter its Camaro coupe, which is based on the same Melbourne-developed Zeta platform that underpins the Commodore, alongside the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger two-doors in North America’s second-string NASCAR Nationwide Series next year.

“The exterior similarities between the SS racecar and the production car are very, very clear. This is good for our fans, it’s great for NASCAR and Chevrolet and our dealers and, most importantly, the relationship for our customers. Everybody wins here,” said Mr Reuss, who expects the V8-only Chevy SS to find between 10,000 and 15,000 American buyers annually.

But he admits the VF’s US twin could prove far more popular than that – without counting the new Sportwagon (‘Nomad’) and Ute (‘El Camino’) models that could follow the sedan to the US – providing Holden’s Elizabeth factory with a substantial production boost, given GM Holden sold only about 50,000 VE vehicles in Australia last year.

The revival of short-wheelbase US exports will be in addition to Holden’s ongoing export program for the long-wheelbase Caprice-based Police Patrol Vehicle, which will continue to provide incremental export sales for Holden’s next-generation large-car range. Despite less competitive pricing due to the strong Aussie dollar, to the end of October Holden had shipped 5782 examples of the existing Caprice PPV to the US.

Revealed in Las Vegas on November 29, the 2013 Chevrolet SS NASCAR is designed to mimic the 2014 Chevy SS sedan – the North American production model that will be based on the VF and exported from Adelaide to the US from the third quarter of next year.

The VF Commodore will go on sale in Australia before then in June, following a staggered reveal program that officially begins in February and culminates in a media launch in May.

It will break official cover in the week prior to a public V8 Supercar test session at Eastern Creek on February 16, before the all-new Holden racecar makes its race debut in the opening round of the 2013 V8 Supercar Championship – Adelaide’s Clipsal 500 over March 1-3.

North America’s Chevy SS will be revealed a week later as part of its NASCAR sibling’s race debut at the first round of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – Florida’s Daytona 500 on February 24 – giving it and its Commodore cousin unrivalled exposure in front of North America’s biggest motorsport audience.

While the Chevy SS NASCAR provides clues to the new-look Commodore sedan (and wagon and ute), so far only the radical new Malibu-style headlight of the road car has been officially revealed. Although its roofline and glasshouse will remain unchanged from the VE Commodore (launched in 2006), the VF will wear redesigned front and rear sheetmetal and plastic, including a new-look grille/bumper with HSV-style LED daytime running lights, fresh quarter panels and an aluminium bonnet.

What we also know is that, with the aid of a $39.8 million federal government grant, the VF will consume an average of about seven per cent less fuel to as low as 8.5L/100km, thanks to weight-saving measures including repackaged suspension, lighter headlight assemblies, a fully restyled interior with lighter trims and Camaro-style switchgear finally including door-mounted window switches, an electric parking brake and electric power steering.

Some models will also offer a larger colour dash-top touch-screen facing the driver, LED mood lighting, stitched leather-look dash trim and wood, aluminium, chrome and piano-black interior highlights.

Under its newly sculpted bonnet, Holden’s next Commodore will offer improved V6 petrol and LPG engines and, for image-leading SS performance models, a new GM V8 and paddle-shift automatic transmission with launch control, among other advances.

The VF will also bring a host of new safety technologies, courtesy of its migration from an earlier generation of the ‘GM LAN’ electrical architecture dubbed Common Arc to the more capable Global A system, which will bring the Commodore into line with the Cruze, Malibu and Camaro.

That will allow Holden to fit at least upstream variants of the Commodore with a much wider array of safety and comfort features, including a head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, keyless starting, GM’s latest MyLink telematics system (with Australian-developed voice-recognition) and a forward collision warning system, possibly with autonomous braking function.


FALCON FURTHER AFIELD
Details of Ford’s 2014 Falcon are scarcer, but a fuzzy front-end image of the remodelled sedan was revealed fleetingly at October’s Sydney motor show and the facelifted four-door is expected to emerge at least in sketch form by the end of 2013, before hitting showrooms early the following year.

Ford insiders have told motoring.com.au that, despite no confirmation of it being built at Broadmeadows beyond 2016, a total investment of $103 million will result in an upgraded Falcon that is “far too good and far too expensive” to last just three years, and we expect the first major update of the FG Falcon since it appeared in 2008 to vie with the VF Commodore until about 2018.

Stung by plunging large-car sales and criticism the FG looked too similar to the BA that preceded it, the 2014 Falcon will – like its opposite number at Holden – feature an all-new interior and a radically different EVOS concept-style front-end design comprising a new bonnet, headlights, grille, bumpers and wings, as suggested in these artist renderings.

Like the 2013 Commodore, the 2014 Falcon will bring advances in safety, technology and fuel-efficiency. Ford Australia has received $34 million in federal funds and an undisclosed Victorian government contribution to help improve the fuel consumption of the Blue Oval’s locally built models with upgraded inline-six petrol and LPG engines set to continue alongside the 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbo-petrol four and – perhaps – the reintroduction of a 5.0-litre XR8.

The Falcon’s Geelong-built 4.0-litre engines will not be compatible with Australia’s tighter new ‘full’ Euro 5 emissions standard due in November 2016, but combined with a 7.5 per cent improvement in aerodynamic efficiency for both the Falcon and Territory, plus a lighter, smoother and quicker-shifting six-speed automatic transmission and the fitment of new tyres with 10 per cent lower rolling resistance, they will emit up to 5.3 per cent less CO2.

The EcoBoost four made its global rear-wheel drive debut in the Falcon and we understand much of that local engineering will be employed in a larger 2.3-litre EcoBoost-powered version of Ford’s new 2014 Mustang, a confirmed right-hand drive version of which could be sold here – and could share engine and chassis technology with a future Falcon.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Australia’s once-sacred Falcon and Commodore nameplates survive into the next decade and, if so, where the cars that wear them will be built.

Long before then, however, what’s certain is that the next chapter in our unique Commodore v Falcon story will bring Australians the best, most advanced cars this country has ever produced.


THE HISTORY OF TWO AUSSIE ICONS

HOLDEN COMMODORE
1978 – First (VB) Commodore replaces HZ Kingswood
1978 – Commodore wins Wheels Car of the Year
1980 – VC Commodore introduced with ‘Blue’ engines
1981 – VH Commodore introduced
1982 – Commodore becomes Australia’s best-selling car
1984 – VK Commodore brings Executive, Berlina and Calais names
1986 – VL Commodore brings Nissan straight six
1988 – VN is first large Commodore, spawns Toyota Lexcen
1993 – VR is first facelift of second-generation Commodore
1995 – VS Commodore launches with overhauled Buick V6
1997 – VT become third all-new Commodore
1999 – VT Series II SS scores new 5.7-litre Gen III V8
2000 - VX Commodore gets new-look front-end
2002 – VY brings first four-door Commodore ute, the Crewman
2003 – Holden releases all-wheel drive wagon-based Adventra
2004 – VZ Commodore brings fresh V6, new 6.0-litre V8
2006 – Billion-dollar VE Commodore emerges on new Zeta platform
2010 – VE Series II released with new Holden iQ infotainment system

FORD FALCON
1960 – Original US Falcon-based XK sedan released
1962 – Australian- designed XL brings Futura sedan and Squire Station Wagon
1965 – XP Falcon arrives with three-speed auto and disc front brakes
1965 – XP Falcon covers 70,000 miles at You Yangs, wins Wheels COTY
1966 – XR heralds second-gen Falcon, brings first V8 in an Aussie Falcon 
1968 – XT Falcon brings cosmetic updates, new 302ci V8
1969 - XW Falcon offers new look, air-con and 351ci V8 GT and GTHO
1970 – XY Falcon brings 200ci and 250ci sixes, and iconic GTHO Phase III
1972 – New XA arrives as third-generation, all-Aussie Falcon
1973 – XB Falcon arrives with Hardtop coupe
1976 – XC Falcon offers locally built Cleveland V8 and crossflow six
1978 – XC Cobra limited-edition wows Ford fans
1979 – XD launched as fourth-generation Falcon
1982 – XE Falcon is last V8, downsizes to 4.1-litre six, outsells Commodore
1984 – XF Falcon arrives before become best-selling Falcon ever
1988 – EA Falcon introduces sleek new shape, XF ute and panel van continue
1991 – EB Falcon arrives, following year’s EBII offers anti-lock brakes
1993 – ED Falcon is Ford’s answer to the VR Commodore
1993 – XG commercials soldier on, ute offered in XR6 guise
1994 – EF Falcon brings more stylish bodyshell and first airbag
1996 – XH Falcon ute and van score new front suspension and steering
1997 – EL Falcon launches as a facelifted EF
1998 – AU Falcon arrives as sixth-generation Falcon
2002 – BA Falcon replaces slow selling AU, wins Wheels COTY
2006 – BA Series II launched in same year as Territory
2008 – FG released as seventh-generation Falcon
2010 – BA III Falcon wagon discontinued

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Powered By Motoring.com.au Published : Thursday, 3 January 2013
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