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Insignia-based all-new Commodore gone in 2021… what then for Holden?

Opel, no longer a part of the GM network, has announced it will switch to Peugeot platforms ASAP, meaning the all-new Commodore will be replaced again from 2021.

OPEL, WHICH DESIGNED and builds the Astra and Commodore for Holden, has been sketching out its future this week. It was sold by GM in March, and now wants to run away from the GM legacy as fast as it can.

So, following the closure of Holden’s local manufacturing, it looks like more upheaval is on its way in Australia. Let’s back up and summarise the two big events leading to all this shenanigans.

The first is well-known: GM closed holden’s local plant because it lost money, deciding instead to bring in and rebadge a motley collection of cars from its offshoots in South Korea and Europe, as well as the US.

The second reason then struck. GM decided earlier this year to sell off that European division, again because it couldn’t be relied on to make money. In fact, it has been a bad loser.

Just one day before the Insignia/Commodore was first shown to the public, France’s Peugeot-Citroen group purchased the Vauxhall and Opel brands, factories and centres of design and vehicle development. Vauxhall and Opel, by the way, once built separate ranges of cars from each other but are now identical bar the badge. Vauxhall sells in RHD Britain and Opel across the rest of Europe.

This week the bosses at the former GM European division have set out a plan to turn the ship around. It hinges on integrating deeply within Peugeot as quickly as possible, and cutting its GM ties. The mainstays of the GM-based cars will be killed off by 2021 and replaced by cars based on Peugeot platforms.

This should improve the bottom line by reducing four outgoings: development cost, factory tooling investment, purchasing prices and licensing fees to Detroit.

So here’s the thing. The new Holden Commodore is a version of the European front-drive Opel Insignia, and is built in Germany. Before it’s even gone on sale, GM globally walked away from it. That puts Holden in a weak position.

What follows is no surprise. Opel said this week it isn’t really interested in building the new Insignia for long. We hear the car will die in about 2021. It’ll be replaced by a saloon of similar size, but built on Peugeot’s platform and using Peugeot’s engines. It’ll be a bigger version of the platform under the Peugeot 308 – a car we really rate.

So then, the new Commodore. On sale for less than four years. Orphan or collector’s item? We’d say the former.

Holden will likely replace it with a version of Detroit’s Chevrolet Malibu. Meanwhile the Astra will doubtless be swapped out for a hatch version of the current Oz Astra saloon, which is known as the Chevy Cruze in America.

This does not bode well. Check our tests of the Holden Astra saloon (a rebadged Chevy Cruze) and the Holden Astra hatch (a rebadged Opel Astra). The hatch is better-driving than the saloon, and better finished inside, and has more safety kit. It feels more expensive. More premium.

By the same token, the new Commodore might have attracted some criticism for being FWD. But it’s actually a refined well-made car with loads of tech and safety features. The Malibu has been criticised (even by the soft American press) as dull to drive and lacking safety kit. The new Commodore has an AWD and V6 option. The Malibu stops at four cylinders and FWD. It doesn’t even have HID headlamps, never mind the LED adaptive jobs you can get on the Insignia/Commodore. Nor head-up display or TFT instruments. You get the picture.

So it looks like Holden will lose the opportunity to sell Euro-developed cars, and rely instead on cheaper-feeling Korean and American ones.

Meanwhile, what of the future here for the new European combine? Well, Peugeot and Citroen have a distribution network here, so it wouldn’t be that hard to re-launch the next generation Opel-Vauxhalls. They’d share lots of parts with the French-branded cars, which would make repair simpler. It’s like the Skoda-Volkswagen-Audi setup.

This week’s announcement said Opel would enter 20 new markets by 2022. Because Vauxhall has a deeper history than Opel in Oz, that might well be the brand they choose to use here. The Holden plant built Vauxhalls here until the late 1960s. The Opel badge could be too tainted by the disaster of its 2012-2013 foray into this country.


Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.