In a saddening but not entirely surprising move, Holden has axed the Commodore from their range for 2020. Holden made the announcement on 10 December, with what the brand is calling a “modified portfolio” to be SUV and ute only by the end of the year.
Stocks of the fully-imported ZB Commodore currently in Australia will not be replenished once they’re gone, with the current BK Series Astra to also be deleted under the SUV-ute initiative. The last Commodores are expected to leave Holden dealerships sometime in 2020, ending a 42-year run for the nameplate that, for several years, was Australia’s best-selling car.
“Holden is taking this decisive action to ensure a sharp focus on the largest and most buoyant market segments,” said Holden Interim Chairman and Managing Director, Kristian Aquilina, who replaced David Buttner after the latter stepped down from the role a week before the 10 December announcement.
Aquilina is a 22-year veteran of Holden, most recently as Marketing Director, while Buttner came out of retirement in August, 2018, to take up the Chairman-MD role with Holden. Previously, Buttner had spent 30 years with Toyota Australia, filling many senior roles and overseeing the closure of Toyota’s Australian manufacturing operations in 2017.
When he joined Holden, Buttner stated he was looking forward to growing the business, but no significant growth occurred and the failure of the imported Commodore to even come close to the sales of its Australian-made predecessor was the most noticeable example of that.
“So far this year, SUVs and Utes have increased to 76 percent of Holden sales, a trend we only see continuing,” Aquilina added.
“The SUV segment is approaching half a million units, and LCVs over 200,000 units. That’s where the action is and that’s where we are going to play.”
Even though the call to end Commodore sales was pragmatic, Aquilina said it was nevertheless a tough one to make.
“The decision to retire the Commodore nameplate has not been taken lightly by those who understand and acknowledge its proud heritage.
“The large sedan was the cornerstone of Australian and New Zealand roads for decades. But now with more choice than ever before, customers are displaying a strong preference for the high driving position, functionality and versatility of SUVs and utes.”
From a peak of more than 94,000 sales in 1998, Commodore sales declined every year since, dipping below 50,000 in 2009, then nosediving to a little more than 9,000 in 2018 as the rollout of the ZB Commodore began. At time of writing, 2019 looked like seeing around 6,000 sales.
The sharp decline in Commodore sales reflects Holden’s overall sales slide over the same period. That decline came into focus in the latter part of 2019, when Holden recorded the lowest sales in its 71-year history, including a November, 2019, result of 2,665 cars sold that was down a whopping 48 per cent on the same month in 2018.
While the Commodores remaining in Holden dealerships will now be a tough sell, with re-sale value expected to be rock bottom in the wake of the axing, Holden aim to soften the blow by adding their market leading seven-year free scheduled servicing offer to all new Commodore sales from 10 December, with the same offer also applying to new Astra sales.
Holden adds that they will continue to back warranty and roadside assistance commitments, with Commodore parts supply guaranteed “well into the future”.
Introduced in October, 1978, the VB Series was the first Aussie Commodore, based on an Opel from Germany, but with significant Australian engineering input.
Aimed at replacing the venerable Kingswood/Premier as Holden’s large family car, it wasn’t large enough to many observers, leading them to switch to Ford’s Falcon, which had retained its “big car” dimensions in the move from the XC to XD platform. Ford outsold Holden for a period based on this, and while the Commodore did sell, it wasn’t until the introduction of the larger second-generation VN Commodore in 1988 that Holden started to eat into the lead of its major rival.
With the arrival of the VR Commodore, in 1993, Holden’s family car was almost back to its market-leading best. Returning to the Number 1 spot with this model in 1996, the Commodore would remain Australia’s top-selling car for the next 15 years, covering the VS, VT (the third-generation Commodore), VX, VY, VZ and all-new, fourth-generation VE that was introduced in 2006.
Six months after the VF Commodore (an update of the VE) was introduced in June, 2013, GM-H announced they’d be closing their Australian manufacturing operations in October, 2017, bringing an end to the “Aussie” Commodore and joining Ford and Toyota in drawing the curtain on Australian automobile manufacturing.
The wisdom of continuing the Commodore nameplate on a European-built and rebadged Opel Insignia will be debated for some time, but Holden obviously felt there was enough cachet in the name to withstand the change.
Introduced in 2018, the ZB Commodore not only looked different, but differed from its predecessor in one key area: it lacked a V8 engine. Offering a 2.0 turbo four, 2.0 turbo diesel four and 3.6 N/A petrol V6, the ZB was by no means a bad car, but no V8 meant no Commodore for traditional buyers.
The ZB Commodore was also a victim of the overall market shift to SUVs and dual cab 4x4 utes that has killed off other traditional family cars, including the Falcon.
From beginning to the soon-to-come end, more than three million Commodores have been sold, including more than one million in the dominant years of 1996 – 2010.
Additionally, the Commodore won numerous Wheels ‘Car of the Year’ awards and was driven to 16 Australian Touring Car/Supercars championships. The Commodore will actually be on the Supercars grid longer than the road car is in showrooms, as the current ZB-based platform is not due for replacement until the end of 2021.
While it’s too early now to tell how the Commodore will be remembered in Holden and general Australian car history, it’s sure to be missed.