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Promise Unfulfilled: GM's Blown Golden Holden Opportunity

Oracle of Delphi

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Shortly after rejoining GM in late 2001, Bob Lutz initiated a program to provide sub-Cadillac rear-drive cars in the United States developed from the Australian Holden brand. Unlike previous GM product chiefs in Detroit, Lutz was impressed with what the Australians had achieved with modest engineering budgets and saw the opportunity to transform the Holden rear-drive platforms into the sporty products he believed Chevy and Pontiac desperately needed.

It was a sound concept -- and one successive Holden execs had been pushing on and off since the 1990s and a project called GMX127, a proposal to build a Holden Commodore rear-drive sedan in Australia for Buick that was reportedly deep-sixed by UAW opposition to the idea. So what went wrong? In a word, timing. Lutz had the right idea, but from the get-go he was chasing the clock.

2006 Pontiac GTO

PONTIAC GTO: Basically a rebadged version of the Holden Monaro coupe, the GTO program suffered from two problems. First, the Monaro, which started out as a skunk-works project at Holden, was intended only as a short-timer, as it came late in the previous-generation Commodore's life cycle. That meant its sheetmetal was based on that of a Commodore styled in the '90s, which was okay for Australia given the rest of the range, but was too plain, with no cues to relate the car to '60s GTOs for the American market. The second problem was the name: GTO set up all sorts of expectations the styling couldn't support. If GM had called it the Pontiac Catalina, or Chevelle, the initial lukewarm reaction to the car might have been different. Pontiac sold 134,758 over three model years, but spread across six calendar years (the last of the leftover '06s sold in 2008). Of those, an impressive 115,590 were sold in 2005.

BUICK VELITE: As GM's finances slid, a sedan based on the handsome RWD '04 Velite convertible concept was put on hold, then eventually canceled.

2009 Pontiac G8 Front Three Quarters View

PONTIAC G8: A rebadged version of the all-new Holden Commodore launched as a 2008 model featuring a 3.6-liter DOHC V-6, 6.0-liter V-8 and, in the GXP, a 415-horsepower 6.2-liter. It was launched just as gas prices skyrocketed, and Pontiac customers needed to get used to unfamiliar switchgear. Pontiac held a contest to name the El Camino-style pickup version, settled on G8 ST, then killed it before it could be imported from Australia. A station wagon version was earlier ruled out for importation. Finally, the economy imploded, and near-dead GM killed the Pontiac division and the G8 with it. With a couple sales months left, Pontiac sold just 35,623 in about two years.

CADILLAC DT7: GM's meltdown finally killed plans for a Cadillac DTS/STS replacement based on Holden's Zeta architecture. There had been some controversy around DT7 -- some GM insiders wondered whether the Holden hardware was premium enough for a full-size Caddy.

Chevrolet Caprice Cop Car Front Three Quarters View

CHEVROLET CAPRICE: Lutz and his new boss, Fritz Henderson, argued over whether the G8 should be rebadged as a Chevy Caprice. Both won, or maybe lost: The car will be sold beginning in 2011 as the Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle, a Holden Statesman (the long-wheelbase version of the Commodore) without the G8's split grille or fake hood scoops and with special police equipment. It lacks one thing police departments love, though: body-on-frame construction. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, owns three frame-straightening machines, and can have a Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor back on the road within days after one of those televised chase-scene bump-and-spin maneuvers.

Link: http://www.motortrend.com/features/auto_news/2010/112_1001_gm_holden_blown_opportnunity/index.html

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