Staying Focused

The latest Commodore Ute is a tribute to Holden engineering, but has the company lost the plot when it comes to its sales focus? Words by Chris Mullett

I have lost patience with Holden in recent months. At a time when it should be celebrating the release of the finest Australian-built range of sedans and utes it’s ever produced, all the headlines mentioning the company are concerned with demands for payouts and corporate whining.

What Holden needs are car company executives that openly embrace new technology with a passion for the motorcar that separates them totally from their marketing counterparts that sell fridges and computers. It’s the generation of excitement and appreciation of the motorcar that brings buyers into the showrooms.

What Holden has is a collective of marketing execs that don’t interact with buyers. Instead, they over rely on surveys by faceless agencies that are fixated on Twitter and Facebook and come up with statements, as told to Delivery recently, that the Commodore Ute xrange “is not a commercial vehicle, it’s actually a performance vehicle.”

That’s a bit like saying AFL isn’t really footie, it’s more of an athletic experience where players run a marathon during a game while handling a leather covered, pill-shaped, stress reliever.

The reason for my sheer frustration comes from driving the latest Commodore Ute and being told thaHolden-seatst out of a ute range that covers five different model choices, only the base version is considered by Holden to be a light commercial. The other versions are apparently considered by the General’s staff to be performance vehicles.

Hello! Does anyone high up at Holden not think that something with a cargo bed where the back seats should be is maybe going to be used to carry loads, tools and even garbage to the tip? If you wanted to carry people, wouldn’t you actually buy a sedan that comes with nice comfy seats?

Holden currently does not have a good track record in selling light commercials. It has made no attempt to add incremental sales volume, and, thereby, dealer showroom traffic and profit, by offering the light commercial product in the van market that is available under the GM badge in Europe. Neither is it making a very good fist out of selling the Colorado, certainly if you believe tales of woe concerning a lack of customer service support.

Delivery has been driving the cheapest version of the VF Commodore Ute and has quickly come to the conclusion that in this highly competitive segment it is an exceptional vehicle.

Starting off with a price capped at $32,990, some $2,500 less than the model it replaces, the 3.0-litre, petrol V6 automatic handles really well over all types of road surfaces. It’s comfortable, responds quickly to the driver’s demand for performance, and it comes with a “basic” spec that includes Auto Park Assist, front and rear parking sensors, remote vehicle start and a reverse view camera.

A large colour touch screen controls the MyLink onboard entertainment system that enables a variety of audio inputs, plus it coordinates the Bluetooth streaming from your phone. Connecting a mobile to the hands-free system has also never been easier, as it can be accomplished in seconds by verbal commands.

From a safety aspect, it’s streets ahead of any Asian import, offering hill start assist, trailer sway control, traction control electronic stability programming, and a full five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

Also part of the package is EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution), EBA (electronic brake assist), Traction Control, dual stage airbags plus side airbags and side curtain airbags for driver and passenger, and pyrotechnic seat belt pre-tensioners. A child seat anchHolden-wheelor point is standard on the cabin bulkhead.

Unlike other single-cab utes, there is space behind the seats for stowing the shopping, plus small lockers for additional storage mounted into the back wall of the cabin.

Performance is brisk and the latest version of the 3.0-litre SIDI petrol V6 is impressive, especially when comparing it with the four-cylinder petrol alternatives in Asian imports. The six-speed automatic works well with the way the engine delivers its power, and by slotting the lever over to the left the driver can switch to manual gear selection.

There’s a choice in power and torque outputs for the base ute that align themselves with the choice of fuel.

Choose petrol-only and you get a 3.0-litre SIDI V6 that produces 190 kW at 6,700 rpm and peak torque of 290 Nm rated at 2,900 rpm.

Go for a dual-fuel petrol/LPG V6 and you get a capacity increase to 3.6 litres but drop back in performance to 175 kW produced at 6,500 rpm plus 318 Nm of torque rated at 2,400 rpm. You also lose two gear ratios to end up with a four-speed automatic. More on the higher power output alternatives later.

The optional extras come onboard with the blind-spot alert and reverse traffic alert at $350.00, the satellite navigation system at $750.00 and you have to pay an additional $450.00 to get a soft tonneau cover.

It’s after this simple arithmetic in terms of engine choice that the waters become very muddied, thanks to the corporate thinking that from this point henceforthx you are not buying a ute, you are buying a performance vehicle. (Try telling that to a tradie that wants a tow bar fitted to haul his work trailer).

The SV6 two-seat “performance vehicle with large tray area” features the 3.6-litre petrol V6 and a power output of 210 kW produced at 6,400 rpm with peak torque of 350 Nm rated at 2,900 rpm. Move onwards and upwards to the SS version and you can embark your journey with a 6.0-litre Gen IV V8 with six-speed manual gearbox and 270 kW at 5,700 rpm with 530 Nm at 4,400 rpm. If you prefer a computer to swap cogs on your behalf, go auto with a six-speed, but drop power output back to 260 kW at 5,700 rpm with a torque rating of 517 Nm @ 4,400 rpm.

We will say one thing in favour of the product planners here, and it relates to the tyre and rim fitment, and, in particular, that of the spare wheel. Rather than succumb to European dictates of providing a short distance solution with a space saver tyre, it’s possible to add a full-sized spare. xIt means that in a country the size of Australia you stand a good chance of getting home if you have a puncture, rather than waiting in a remote area for the nearest tilt tray to arrive.Holden-main-2_c

The base ute comes with 16-inch x 7-inch steel rims shod with 225/60 R16 tyres and a full-sized spare. The SV6 and SS models drop down in aspect ratio to 18-inch x 8-inch, 245/45R18 sizing on alloy rims, but with a 16-inch x 7-inch sized spare on a steel rim as standard. A full-sized spare on an alloy rim is optional. The same choice for spare tyre fitment applies to those using 19-inch x 8-inch alloys with 245/40R19 tyres on the SS-V.

Given that all utes owned by tradies that we see are towing a trailer, it pays to know your limitations.

Starting with payloads, the base ute with automatic transmission can carry 815 kg. As you move upwards in performance you move downwards in payload, with the SV6 auto offering a payload of 667 kg through to the SSV Redline automatic at 632 kg.

If you have yet to be convinced that you bought a performance vehicle rather than a ute, then join the tradie clan and couple up to an appropriate trailer. When towing with the base 3.0-litre SIDI V6 ute with automatic transmission, you can haul around a braked trailer with a total laden weight of 1,600 kg. Choose the V6 3.6-litre dual-fuel engine or the V8, and with an auto you can haul a braked trailer with a laden weight of 2,100 kg, dropping back to 1,600 kg with the manual gearbox.

Finally we look at fuel economy. With an LPG version available, for those on a cost saving mission and covering high distances, there are advantages, as long as the pump price stays lower than corresponding E85 or unleaded petrol.

When relying on conventional petroleum as a fuel source the 3.0-litre SIDI achieves 8.3 l/100 km, an improvement over the previous version of that engine by 6.7 percent. The 3.6-litre consumption figure is 9.0 l/100 km (8.2 percent more efficient) and the V8 sibling returns 11.5 -11.8 l/100 km.

We mentioned pricing for the base ute and in our view its exceptional value. Not so convincing, though, is the escalation in cost to $55,160, the quoted NSW drive-away price for the SS-V Redline with V8 and automatic transmission.

We came away from a week behind the wheel of the basic Holden Ute very impressed. What we don’t understand is why Holden hasn’t yet realised how good it actually is and taken the decision to market it accurately to those who care.

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