2018 Holden Commodore falls into French ownership

UPDATED: Australia's next Holden Commodore will be French-owned by the time it reaches our shores in early 2018, with Holden parent General Motors confirming the sale of its European carmaker.

GM chairman and chief executive Mary Barra confirmed the French-owned Opel would continue to provide Holden with vehicles under a supply deal negotiated between the carmakers. In the meantime, Opel's new owners, Citroen and Peugeot parent PSA Group, will convert Opel's products to Peugeot- and Citroen-based cars as part of the handover. 

General Motors confirmed it would offload its Opel/Vauxhall division to French giant PSA raising questions about the future of one third of Holden’s future models, including the Holden Astra and the soon-to-arrive 2018 Commodore. However, the supply of both cars now remains certain for at least the next five years as part of the transformation process.

The €2.2 billion ($3.1 billion) deal will see General Motors sell its six assembly plants, German-based engineering facility at Russelsheim and half of GM Financial’s European operations. It will make PSA Group the second largest manufacturer in Europe.

The announcement comes as Holden is embarking on its most ambitious European-sourced model offensive in its 69-year history as a major strategy of its 2018 and beyond post-manufacturing future.

GM and Holden have previously stressed the importance of sourcing vehicles from Europe given the shift in Australian tastes towards luxury and European models.

Holden released a brief statement confirming the immediate supply of Opel-sourced cars – including the upcoming Commodore, the first one not produced in Australia – claiming “these product programs are not affected at all”.

The statement read: “Holden and Opel have had close ties for many years and delivered fantastic vehicles to Australian customers, including the current all-new Astra and the next-generation Commodore due in 2018. The good news is these product programs are not affected at all. We will continue to work closely with Opel and GM to deliver our vehicle plans with excellence and precision. This includes future, new right-hand-drive SUVs like the Equinox and Acadia that were engineered specifically for right-hand drive markets.”

However, in terms of the impact on Holden and where it sources its vehicles longer terms the announcement raises more questions than it answers.

Will Holden be able to continue using the Astra name, for example? The nameplate was recently reintroduced to replace the shortlived Holden Cruze and form a central plank to Holden’s small car aspirations.

And where, longer term, will future Commodores come from, if Holden decides to continue with it at all?

The statement says Opels will eventually shift away from GM-based products to PSA platforms and architectures.

“Opel/Vauxhall will also continue to benefit from intellectual property licenses from GM until its vehicles progressively convert to PSA platforms over the coming years,” read one section.

However, Peugeot and Citroen have a poor record with export markets such as Australia.

Key to the issues are auto transmissions mated to small or unsuited engines as well as inconsistent model lines. And vehicles are now always set up well for Australian conditions.

Sales of Peugeots and Citroens in Australia are just as poor and have been falling.

The announcement is poorly timed for Holden, too, which is struggling with record low market share – just 6.4 percent in February – and convincing Australians it will continue beyond the October 20, 2017 shutdown of manufacturing.

Holden’s future is already riddled with uncertainty as it deals with surviving without manufacturing that has been the backbone of the brand.

In confirming the deal, Barra said it was about “reshaping our company” and that it “created a new opportunity to enhance the long-term performance of our respective companies”.

Barra said: “We are very pleased that together, GM, our valued colleagues at Opel/Vauxhall and PSA have created a new opportunity to enhance the long-term performance of our respective companies by building on the success of our prior alliance.

“For GM, this represents another major step in the ongoing work that is driving our improved performance and accelerating our momentum. We are reshaping our company and delivering consistent, record results for our owners through disciplined capital allocation to our higher-return investments in our core automotive business and in new technologies that are enabling us to lead the future of personal mobility.”

With Barry Park

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