Holden’s lost heroes: El Camino ute, new Monaro, and Nullarbor SUV

Holden’s lost heroes: El Camino ute, new Monaro, and Nullarbor SUV

GM design chief reveals the projects Holden had to shelve.

AUSTRALIANS might be parking a sexy, homegrown, Holden-badged Monaro coupe, a coupe-styled ute or even a Commodore-based SUV in their driveways if it wasn’t for poor economic and market circumstances since 2008.

Wheels can reveal that three separate projects – a production version of the Coupe 60 (pictured below), a long-and-low El Camino-style ute (pictured top), and a Ford Territory-rivalling seven-seat Nullarbor SUV – were quietly shelved in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis as Holden’s parent company, General Motors, desperately struggled to avoid plunging into bankruptcy.

Holden -Coupe -60GM’s global vice-president of design, Michael Simcoe, revealed to Wheels that even more spin-offs from the Zeta platform that underpins the VF Commodore were in various stages of planning.

“I remember sedan, coupe, Caprice, ute, SUV AWD, low and high crew-cab … there were probably more,” Simcoe said.

“The point of the coupe and the coupe ute was the sharing of the long door and glass to save investment, but from our design standpoint it made the ute much more sleek and low, with frameless glass allowing a single door and a simple profile change to the edge of the glass to suit two different roof shapes.

“For the coupe it meant frameless, and therefore a slimmer, more open upper.”

Holden -2-door -sports -ute -frontAccording to Simcoe, the SUV was to replace the previous-generation Commodore wagon-based Adventra. “A higher SUV was where the market was moving, and it would also replace the traditional wagon,” he said.

Simcoe’s observation that SUVs were replacing traditional station wagons in buyers’ driveways also explains why Holden elected to base its Sportswagon on the short-wheelbase sedan platform, not the longer Statesman/Caprice platform used for older versions of the family load-lugger.

The Commodore-based coupe and its ute derivative made it through to full-size clay model mock-ups, showing the development program was well advanced before it was shelved.

Borrowing cues from the first-generation BMW X5, Holden’s Commodore-based SUV (pictured below) took shape under current Holden design manager Ondrej Koromhaz.

Holden -SUV-SS-VMirroring the model range of rival Ford and its strong-selling, Falcon-based Ford Territory, the Nullarbor would have offered rear- and all-wheel-drive options, with engine choices reaching to the locally made 3.6-litre V6 and a Chevrolet-sourced V8.

A diesel option, using a VM Motori-sourced V6, was deemed too expensive and ruled out.

Holden had high hopes for the front-engined, rear-drive architecture underpinning the Commodore, even showing a video at the 2006 launch of the VE that flashed up silhouettes of potential spin-offs, ranging from convertibles to sports cars, and more.

Apart from the locally made Commodore-based range, the only other production car to use the Zeta platform globally was the Australian-designed and engineered fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro that launched in the US as a 2010 model and ended production in November last year.

Holden -Monaro -concept

Holden did have one more shot at a spin-off. In 2008, it staged the US reveal of a GMC Denali, a Holden Crewman-inspired monocoque four-door pick-up with brash lines, a seriously slammed Hummer-style glasshouse and a small tub, all of which was meant to take the GM-owned truck brand more upmarket.

It was never to be. According to Simcoe, the Zeta program that spawned the VE Commodore was “a huge cost” to Holden in terms of investment and resources.

“Did we make the wrong choice [in terms of product development]?” Simcoe mulls. “That’s debatable. Perhaps people were moving away from large sedans, but the truth is we didn’t have enough other good cars in our portfolio.

“In hindsight, my desire would have been the coupe and coupe ute. If I was being more rational, the SUV and the Crewman would have been great as well.”

Holden -Monaro -concept -frontPack up your troubles

The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement ratified on January 1, 2005, was lauded as a “landmark in improving Australia's trade and investment relationship with the world's largest and richest economy”.

One of the key points among the lawyer-speak was a clause that removed a stiff 25 percent tariff on exports of Australian-built light commercial vehicles to the US – the so-called Chicken Tax introduced in retribution for Europe’s penalising of trade utes (itself a backlash to cheap US chicken meat exports).

Essentially, the trade agreement opened the door for the Holden-built ute, and its rival Ford Falcon-based equivalent had it green-lighted a left-hand drive conversion program, to sell in the US at a competitive advantage.

The closest Holden ever made it to launching the Commodore-based ute in the US was a single Pontiac-badged version of the car launched at the 2008 New York Motor Show by rapper 50 Cent.

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  • Build that ss SUV please please please
  • GM,CHEV whoever - Build that SUV SSV... it's a killer!! Crying shame that Holden design the best looking car ever and don't take it to production!!
  • Hard to want what never was available. Gonna gonna gonna - didn't! A case of Economics and too late to care. Too bad they look sensational otherwise, would have turned my attention from the blue oval.
  • The SUV looks sensational, so much better than a Captiva and tougher than pretty much anything else on the market. I've got a VF and I'd buy one of these in a heart beat
  • Yes it's a real shame, "the unlucky country"... Australia is a too-small quirky right-hand-drive market. We should have changed to left-hand drive cars years ago and abandoned our disastrous left-wing union policies providing expensive sub-standard metal. Subsidies are however an unfortunate necessity in this industry, but should only be given if the country receives some benefit - export dollars! To this day we continue to support Canberra with daft political protectionism policy - the luxury car tax. It's hard to understand the purpose of such a tax now, it does not raise a significant amount of revenue and distorts the market towards sub-standard metal. Hyundai must be laughing. M
  • A lot of bad decisions made by GM Australia needs better investors . Will really miss the Austaluan made cars.
  • @Joe exactly. Blind Freddy with half a brain knows no one mismanages the country's finances or looks after their union mates like the Labour Party. One only has to look at their membership and where they source their donations to see this. Daniel Andrews wasted $1.1 BILLION on a road that isn't going to be built under his government yet it's still in their long term agenda. The mind boggles.
  • @picant ....After the Union movement singlehandedly priced and hounded the motor Industry out of Australia, Dumarey will have serious issues trying to afford re-starting and re-employing a SERIOUSLY over paid workforce..... what did the Government have to do with it?.....
  • After the current federal government hounding the motor industry out of Australia, now they want to look at the proposals of Dumarey. There must be an election around the corner......
  • May Dumarey buy the Holden plant and zeta platform. Then he can pick up where where they left off, and hire Simcoe to finish what he started.
  • For they may say, God save the General, but nothing will save the bloody yankee cars in Australia. Bring on the Chinese, Great Walls of fire, Futons for sleeping, Havolons for ?, Chow meins for Chowing............Lets hope there are some enterprising Australians Somewhere in this World, to build a new car.