Good Car, Bad Time: Holden Commodore VE/VF – Australia’s Best-Built Car Was Also Last | Opinion – Automotive News

Twenty years ago, the market for family sedans was in poor health. A wide range of 11 models – including the Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon, Toyota Aurion, Mitsubishi Magna and Hyundai Grandeur – accounted for almost 35% of all cars sold in Australia.

Fast forward to 2022 and there are only two family sedans left – the Kia Stinger and Skoda Superb.

Against this background, it’s easier to see why Holden struggled so much with its later Commodores. Because there’s no doubt – the last Australian-designed and built Commodores were truly world-class cars.

Learn more about the Holden Commodore

The design, production and dynamics of the 2006 VE Commodore were the best they had ever been and only improved in 2013 with the arrival of the VF Commodore. The quality and breadth of the range made it a car that should have appealed to a wide cross-section of the community – the fleet-focused Omega, the sporty SV6, the muscular SS and the luxurious Calais, as well as the Caprice long wheelbase, the Ute and Sportwagon.

Instead, from the moment it arrived, sales of the Commodore experienced a steep and ultimately terminal decline. It was arguably the best car ever made in Australia, but it came at precisely the wrong time to succeed.

In hindsight, the VE/VF Commodore program was doomed from the start, but at the time, it seemed like the right move for a Holden that was the second best-selling brand in the country, just behind a Toyota. booming.

At least that was the case in 1999 when the VE Commodore project started. Until now, all previous Commodore models were based on an iteration of an Opel-based foundation, but with the Opel Omega gone, Holden decided to develop its own platform for the Commodore which would apparently take it to a Bright future.

This was the birth of the so-called “billion dollar baby”, as Holden and General Motors invested huge sums of money to develop the “Zeta” platform which, in theory, would underpin a variety of GM models around the world.

The result was an all-new Commodore that was clearly a step above what had come before it, in every way. It was a more polished and upscale Commodore, a faster and sportier Commodore, and a more versatile and multi-faceted Commodore.

Holden’s billion-dollar baby, the VE was by far Australia’s greatest achievement in automotive engineering and design.

Everything suggested it was the right car for the right time…all that is, except an audience that still loved big cars.

From the time Holden started the EV project in 1999 until the first car rolled off the production line in 2006, the family car market had begun to slump. In 1999 Australians bought over 200,000 large sedans and wagons, but by 2006 that number had fallen to just over 130,000. Commodore sales matched the overall market decline from over 85 000 in 1999 to only 56,000 in 2006.

Unfortunately for Holden, by this point it had gone down the road and by the time the VF Commodore arrived in 2013 the large car market had dropped to just 47,066 annual sales. That’s a 77% drop since 1999, when the VE Commodore project began.

Although the VF was an evolutionary improvement over the VE, sales continued to fall, falling to just 30,203 in its first full year on sale (2014).

The Holden Commodore may be gone, but it's still popular online. The Holden Commodore may be gone, but it’s still popular online.

Holden had produced its best car, but sadly it seemed few Australians wanted to buy it.

Plans for the Zeta platform to support a variety of GM models were also scrapped, after only the 2010-15 Chevrolet Camaro used it. Holden tried to export the long-wheelbase Caprice to the United States as a police car and the Commodore was rebadged as the Chevrolet SS, but both programs had limited success due to unfavorable exchange rates.

Ultimately, the VF Commodore ceased production in 2017 and was replaced, somewhat ironically, by the Opel Insignia, thus completing the Commodore’s story.

Except that’s not really the end of the VF Commodore story. Now that Holden is gone, it seems some Aussies appreciate how good the final locally-built model was with skyrocketing used-car prices.

At the time of publication, the most expensive VF Commodore announced on Autotrader.com.au is a 2017 Redline Motorsport Edition SS-V with an asking price of $259,000. There are another dozen – mostly SS-V Motorsport Editions – advertised for more than six figures.

It seems the right time has finally arrived for the VF Commodore.

About Robert Wright

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