Two Lions, Four Continents, One Car

General Motors – the name is a clue – are virtuosos in the art of the world car. This is not to say they haven’t played a few bum notes in their time. 

Source: Motor Australia

It’s too early to speculate how the Opel Insignia B will perform on its world tour, but its diverse audiences will demand versatility as well as capability. Launched proudly earlier this year in Switzerland, the Insigregaldore carries four badges; a lightning bolt, a mythical beast which appears to be self-conscious about underarm odour, three shields, and from February 2018, a lion.

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Not the lion rampant of Franche-Comté, but the emblem of Holden, GM’s troubled Australian subsidiary. In a strange twist of destiny, on the day before the Opel Insignia was presented to the world, GM agreed the sale of its chronically unprofitable European operations to the French company whose symbol is the first-mentioned lion.

The first Insignia was a Vauxhall in the UK, an Opel in the rest of Europe, and a Buick in North America and China. For the difficult sophomore iteration, it adds the Holden Commodore role to the repertoire.

In anticipation, here are a few thoughts on the task it faces in Australia (and New Zealand), and also the extent to which the Antipodes have shaped the Insignia.

There’s a ghoulish circularity about a car from Russelsheim replacing the last Australian-built Holden Commodore, 39½ years after the first of the series was presented to the Australian buying public, who largely resented an undersized, very German car replacing their beloved Kingswoods, Belmonts and Monaros.

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1977 Opel Commodore C and 1978 Holden Commodore VB. The Australian version had a hose-clean interior and replaced the 2.5 litre CIH engine with a home grown 3.3 litre straight six engine which could be fixed with two spanners and a hammer. On the credit side, the bodyshell was reinforced to save drivers the embarrassment of their car splitting in two on outback roads.

Over the decades the Commodore acclimatised to its new home, with the inevitable utes and panel vans joining the range, and V8 powered range-toppers affirming its ‘Aussie Hero’ status. However, tax changes in the early ‘90s opened the market to imports without punitive tariffs, and gradually Australia’s car buyers succumbed to the curse of sophistication.  Mirroring North America, SUVs, pick-ups, and premium German marques conquered the Australian market. The Commodore and Falcon, once chart-toppers, dropped to the lower reaches of the top ten, many of these were police, government, and taxi fleet purchases.

Source: Motor Australia

Therefore the Commodore from Germany hasn’t a high target to match, owing to the inexorable decline of demand for the full-size Australian saloon. In 2014 30,203 passenger Commodores were registered in their home market, plus 4349 utes. In 2015 the numbers were 27,770 + 4936.  Without utes (although they are still listed as available), registrations declined to 25,860 in the following year.

Last year was a record year for vehicle sales in Australia, with 1.178 million cars and LCVs registered, in a nation with a population of 23 million. The best-seller was the Toyota Hi-Lux. The car-based pick-up (referred to widely by the revolting term “coupe utility”) is held by Australia to be its own invention, their foremost contribution to the automotive pantheon. Be that as it may, the nation’s people voted with their finance agreements for the strictly utilitarian Japanese interpretation of the genre.

Australians love wordplay. The Commodore is colloquially the “Dunny Door”. (Note for non-Australian speakers. “Dunny” is an earth closet located outside a dwelling. Not many Australian homes still have such things, but they are remembered with great affection). The outgoing Commodore is the VF. Most of the two-letter vehicle designations have amusing anti-acronyms.

Source: Motor Australia

Perhaps the last Australian Commodore will be remembered as “Very Fine”. Its successor is labelled ‘NG’, which probably signifies “New Generation”. If Opel stumble, it will forever be the “No Good” Commodore.

The first Commodore, the VB, shares its two-character identity with Victoria Bitter, a misleadingly-named and inexplicably popular chemical lager otherwise only notable for inducing skull-splitting hangovers even after a very moderate intake. I’m sure it isn’t coincidence.

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The VF is not a bad looking thing, although there’s a feeling of trying to do an Audi and coming up with a very big Laguna. Big is relative – the chart below shows that the German Commodore’s ‘footprint’ is scarcely smaller.

Did the Insignia B grow to meet Australian expectations? More likely it was driven by Karl-Thomas Neumann’s ambition to “upset the upper class”, by offering a near-Audi A7 sized car for well under the price of an entry-level A4.

The VF Commodore engine line-up is very much one for a big engine, cheap fuel nation. A 1.5 or 2.0 litre turbocharged European Wundermotor looks like a poor substitute for the locally made direct-injection GM High Feature V6 in 3.0 litre (248bhp) and 3.6 litre (280bhp) capacities, and an imported 6.2 litre, 408bhp LS3 V8.

Although Europe and China will only get four cylinder engines, a 3.0 litre High Feature V6 will be offered in the Commodore NG, in combination with the ‘Twinster’ 4WD system. It seems that there’s no room for turbochargers in the new generation of V6 Insignia – in this matter the previous generation did better with the mad 325bhp 2.8 litre V6 OPC / VXR. The V6 will not be Australian-built.  The Fishermen’s Bend HFV6 facility made its last engine in November 2016, having produced 1,137,282 examples since 2003.

Source: motoring.au

GM would, it seems, prefer us to think that the V6 Insigregaldore was an Australian exclusive, but word has leaked out, by way of the California Air Resources Board, of a 3.6 litre 4WD Buick Regal GS for the 2018 model year.

Source: The Truth About Cars

TTAC reported that Buick Canada’s website revealed the forthcoming Regal 4WD GS prematurely, on a page which was taken down a day later. Badging apart, there is little external differentiation across the marques. The Insignia Country Tourer becomes a Regal Tour-X and a plain ‘Tourer’ for Holden. Without off-road pretensions, the Commodore estate is a ‘Sportwagon’. In either case, loadspace is about 80% of the outgoing wagon.

Source: Motor Australia

Utes and Panel Vans are, one imagines, out of the question.

There’s some disappointment from Australian sources that the ‘Adventra’ name was not revived for the new car. It previously applied to a high-riding 4WD Commodore wagon in the Volvo XC / Audi Allroad style sold from 2003-2006. Despite being overshadowed by the Ford Territory a year later, it is regarded as a minor Aussie icon.

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The Adventra. Holden’s answer to the Rover Streetwise, but with 4WD and a 5.7 litre V8 option. Lasted less than four years before being replaced by a Holden-badged Daewoo Captiva. The very definition of ingnominy…

So how will the German Commodore fare? It’s anybody’s guess, and will probably come down to vulgar money. The outgoing  Commodore is no longer a cheap car. A base model Commodore 3.0 V6 costs A$39,689 (€27,949), the rather more tempting 6.2 litre V8 Commodore SS is A$47,490  (€33,450). For comparison a 2.5 litre Toyota Camry is being offered at A$30,000 (€20,600), the Aurion, as they call the 3.5 litre V6 Camry, is yours for A$40,000 (€28,000).

With Australian production of both the Commodore and Camry/Aurion set to end in November 2017, new battle lines are going to be drawn.

May the best – fully-imported – car win.

12 thoughts on “Two Lions, Four Continents, One Car”

  1. Sad times for Holden. The new Insignia is markedly bigger than the previous model, although whether this is a good move is open to debate. The outgoing Insignia was exactly the right size for Europe; the new one might be a bit big. Commodore fans on the other hand might find the new model a tight fit. As Ford with the Mondeo/Fusion, GM may have decided that it is better to lose a few more sales with a one size fits all product, rather than lose money hand over fist with excessive tailoring.

  2. Slightly off topic, I can report that I’ve seen my first Insignia B out in the open – and that it’s a significantly more attractive piece of machinery in the metal than in the pictures (as with many other Mark Adams-era Opels). If I had to pick another car that resembles the Opel, it’d be the Mazda6, which is hardly an insult.

    But yes, it’s a big car. How will the next generation of Mondeos/Insignias et al manage to remain below the five metre mark?

    1. Even as the Insignia grew and grew as did the Mondeo, there came no smaller saloon under it from these marques. Audi and others sell cars this size – how is that?

    2. If you add up all the worldwide variants of the Insignia, it has been doing business not far off that of the Audi A6. The Buick Regal has not been a hit in the USA, but sold very well in China. Audi is doing bigger numbers in China, however.

    3. Slightly off-topic, but the Regal really summarises contemporary Buick – products purloined from elsewhere in the General’s global range, but made slightly more naff for no obvious reason beyond that management imagines its customer base really values pointless tat. The defining feature has to be the fake, stick-on ‘ventiports’ on the bonnet, which look both horrid and ridiculous.

  3. Since you mention Lions in the heading, the question here is not how this car will fare. The question is what it will be replaced by now that the GM mother ship is the ex-mother. How will a badge engineered Peugeot 508 with Holden badges fare in Oz?

    1. Ah yes I had assumed Holden was also sold to PAS as part of the Vauxhall/Opel deal. But I guess GM kept that.

  4. Is that an AutoBild conjecture, or does it have any basis in reality?

    I’d expect there next 508 to dance to Dongfeng’s tune. It looks like the bastard child of a 2 Series and a Superb, which will probably do just fine, at least in China.

    I expect GM have put a strict limit on Peugeot’s use of the Insigregaldore IP, and the next but one Commodore will be a Korean or Chinese made Malibu.

    Likewise the next Holden Astra – more likely to be an Oriental Cruze than a re-worked 308. Unless of course GM decide to cut their losses in Australia and flog Holden to Dongfeng.

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