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Commodore prices slashed

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Commodore prices slashed


June 12, 2010

Holden's Sportwagon has been a shining light for Commodore sales.

Buyers can save the equivalent of $13,000 on a Commodore as the car maker attempts to secure its No. 1 status, writes Richard Blackburn.

Holden has wound the clock back almost 15 years on the price of its best-selling Commodore, as the company sacrifices profit to keep Australia's best-selling car on top of the sales list.

The Commodore is now cheaper than smaller, similarly equipped mid-sized cars such as the Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and Honda Accord, with Holden offering the car for $33,990 drive-away as part of a run-out sale ahead of a new model expected to go on sale in September.

The price is about the same as it would have cost to drive away in a similarly equipped 1997 VT Commodore. The deal comes with a host of extra equipment at no added cost, including leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, Bluetooth and parking sensors.

It effectively represents a discount of more than $13,000 over the recommended retail price.

Commodore sales have slumped dramatically since the launch of the VE model in 2006.

In 2005, the last full year of the VZ Commodore, the car attracted 67,000 buyers. Last year, the total was less than 45,000. At the height of the car's popularity in 1997, almost 95,000 were sold.

The slide has been masked partially by the outstanding success of the Commodore Sportwagon. Wagons used to comprise one in five Commodore sales; now they make up a third.

The Commodore is not the only victim of the slide in sales of locally made cars in the past five years. Mitsubishi's 380 was discontinued in 2008, while Ford's Falcon and Territory have slipped down the sales charts as lower tariffs have made imports more attractive.

Toyota's locally built sedans, the Camry and Aurion, have fallen well short of initial sales projections.

Holden updated the Commodore sedan with a smaller and more frugal 3.0-litre engine in September last year. But it took the unusual step of not refreshing the interior or exterior design of the car.

As a result, the Commodore hasn't enjoyed the spike in sales that usually accompanies a model refresh.

Holden has reacted by running constant drive-away deals for the VE, which started at $36,990 and have fallen ever since.

Holden executive director of marketing and sales John Elsworth admits margins have been squeezed by the deals. "Does it mean our profits get squeezed? Absolutely.

But our cost-base at the moment here is pretty good with our restructure last year so we can weather the storm, if you like, from a reduced margin perspective," he says.

Holden lost $210 million last year, its fifth successive loss.

Elsworth says the company has responded to the shift in consumer demand away from large cars by developing a second car line.

The Cruze small car will be built at the company's Elizabeth plant in South Australia from February next year.

"That way we are producing cars across the two biggest market segments," he says.

Despite the sales slide, Elsworth is confident the Commodore will remain the top-selling car in the country this year, marking a 15-year run at the top.

"Our objective is still to be number one this year," he says.

"I don't think the model changeover really impacts that at all."

This week, Drive obtained an exclusive look at the interior of the new model, albeit in left-hand-drive guise for export markets.

It shows minor cosmetic changes to the cabin layout, the most noticeable being two large circular air vents in the middle of the dash.

The vents are believed only to appear on the sporty SS and SV6 models, while the rest of the range will get a more sedate treatment.

A multi-function LCD screen, flanked by 10 push buttons, has moved higher up on the console to address one of the major ergonomic failings of the VE - that drivers have to take their eyes of the road to fiddle with buttons that are presently set too low.

More expensive models are expected to get an upmarket touch-screen unit for controlling the airconditioning, audio and other systems in the car. Some models will also get a hard disk drive for storing music.

Other changes are believed to be limited to seat trims and inserts in the doors and on the dash, which has piano-black highlights.



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