GM's New Sporty Sedan from Down Under
GM Holden last week launched its biggest program ever, the $1 billion all-new Holden VE Commodore range. Designed at Holden's Port Melbourne design center, the 4th generation Commodore is the first all-new model of the series to be fully designed and engineered in Australia. Previous generations of Commodore since 1978 have always been based on lengthened and widened Opel large car platforms of the day but since the demise of the European Omega in 2003, GM lacked a suitable rear-wheel-drive donor platform for a new Commodore, hence the clean sheet approach for the latest VE model.
Under the direction of Design Director Tony Stolfo, the Port Melbourne facility is now GM's third largest design centre behind those in Warren, Michigan and Russelsheim, Germany. The facility houses around 170 design staff, having been expanded earlier this year to assume new global responsibilities for General Motors design programs outside Australia.
Stolfo said the Holden Design team was aware of the responsibilities involved in creating a new version of what had been Australia's best selling car for the past decade. "This is the biggest job in Australian automotive design and we are incredibly proud of everything we have achieved," he said. The new car offers better safety and flexibility and increased interior space without being significantly larger.
The new VE Commodore range starts with the Omega and Berlina specifications, featuring a 3.6liter Alloytec V6 with 180kW and 4-speed automatic transmission. The front end on the entry level Omega features an aero grille blade in charcoal finish and twin reflector headlamps with gloss black bezels. The Berlina model has a chrome twin blade grille, 17" alloy wheels and larger tail lamps with clear red outer lens over linear fluted inner lens. Next up, the luxury Calais is available with an uprated 3.6liter V6 with 195kW or a 6.0 liter Generation 4 V8 with quad round chrome exhaust outlets at the rear and clear smoked tail lamps. The top luxury Calais V gets 18-inch seven spoke machine finished alloy wheels and full leather interior as standard.
The sporty SV6 and SS get a full sports body kit including a big trunklid spoiler, lower rocker skirts and sports grille with honeycomb texture, while the top SS-V model gets a larger tail spoiler,19-inch alloys and the full 6.0 liter V8 with 270kW, 530Nm of torque and Aisin AY6 six-speed manual gearbox. 20x8-inch wheels are available as an accessory.
The exterior design concept for the VE Commodore was largely set in the late 1990s by previous Design Director Michael Simcoe, now at GM in Detroit. With a much longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs, the car looks more sporty and compact than the dimensions suggest, with a European-looking overall theme to the design that relates to recent Opel models such as the Vectra or Signum. Chief Designer Richard Ferlazzo, best known for his work on the stunning EFIJY concept in 2005, summarises the VE Commodore's exterior theme in two words: proportion and stance. "VE is a mature design which exploits the benefits of a large rear-wheel-drive platform, delivering classic proportion and athletic stance," Ferlazzo said.
The design features clean, chiseled surfaces and big flared wheelarches but compared to the latest designs in Europe and Japan, it looks slightly anonymous, even a little dated. This is particularly true of the six-element front end with a separated upper headlamp/grille layout and a lower mask with three divided grilles, a theme that's no longer regarded as cutting-edge for many designers elsewhere. The design is relieved with sporting details such as the fender vents and dual exhaust outlets, and the sporty top SV6 and SS versions with full sports body kits certainly help to bolster the Commodore's appeal as a driver's car.
The extensive line-up uses typical 'differentiation devices' to the maximum: The VE range provides no fewer than two headlight styles, three front grilles, four tail lights, three rear fascias and two rear spoilers in its standard range.
Long Wheelbase Statesman and Caprice
The latest WM series Statesman and Caprice were also unveiled alongside the VE Commodore to highlight the design and development breadth of Australia's first $1 billion car program. The long wheelbase flagship models use substantially different sheet metal from the Commodore including a 6-light DLO, not unlike the latest Audi A6 and a high-mounted front fender vent. As before, they will carry the General Motors brands of Chevrolet in the Middle East, Buick in China and Daewoo in South Korea. Full details will be announced later in the summer.
This latest VE Commodore programme represents a big step forward for Holden within the GM empire. With around 2.4 million Commodores having been built since the VB Commodore was launched in 1978, the new VE is not only likely to continue as Australia's best selling car but is set to become the basis of other full-size GM models for export sales around the world.
Dimensions: length: 4894mm (+18mm), width 1899mm (+57mm), height 1476mm (+20mm), wheelbase 2915mm (+126mm).