VE Commodore

Holden VE Commodore

The Holden VE Commodore is the fourteenth and current model of the Holden Commodore, a full-size car produced by Holden, the Australian subsidiary of General Motors.

Once full-scale production had commenced, the official unveiling took place at a Melbourne media launch three days later on 16 July 2006. As opposed to previous generations which used Opel-sourced platforms adapted both mechanically and in size for the local market, the VE programme is the first to be developed exclusively by Holden in Australia. The design of this new model included innovative features to help minimise export costs, such as a symmetrical centre console that houses a flush-fitting hand brake lever to facilitate its conversion to left-hand drive. Internationally, the Commodore is badge engineered as the Chevrolet Lumina, Chevrolet Omega and Pontiac G8.

Holden implemented a staged roll-out of the VE variants, releasing the sedan first. Prior to this, Holden stated they would manufacture two parallel generations of Commodores until the new station wagon and utility body styles were launched. The company also announced that engines and transmissions would be largely carried over from the previous VZ model. Variants by Holden's performance arm, HSV, were released soon after the sedan's debut alongside the long-wheelbase WM Statesman/Caprice models. The VE Ute did not enter production until 2007 when it was accompanied by the previewing of a Sportwagon concept. The Sportwagon itself was subsequently introduced in July 2008.

History of development

Holden's designers and engineers began laying down the basics of a clean-sheet Commodore sedan in 1999. In the seven years of development, the car came to be Holden's largest and most expensive project, representing an expenditure exceeding AU$1 billion and 3.4 million kilometres (2.1 million miles) of testing.

Design

In 1999 Peter Hughes, Holden's manager of exterior design, produced a two-dimensional image of a sketch drawn earlier by Michael Simcoe, Holden's design director at the time. Known in house as the "Bill of Design", the sketch formed the design basis for the production-ready car. Various elements of the sketch were changed, including the rear tail lamps, the low-profile side window cluster and the drawn out wheelbase, but the aggressive stance remained.

In 2004, just two years before the release of the VE Commodore, Holden unveiled the Torana TT36 concept car at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney. The TT36 served as a preview of the VE and allowed Holden to gauge public reaction to its styling. Much of the Torana’s styling drew on the essence of the VE's design. Some production-ready components even carried over from the TT36 including the steering wheel, the window and rear-view mirror switch cluster and the handbrake lever.

Engineering

Shortly after penning the first design sketches, Holden engineers began work on developing the chassis. Opel, which had provided the basis for all previous Commodore generations, ceased production of their rear-wheel drive Omega. This meant that Holden had two options: to use another General Motors platform, or to develop an all-new vehicle. GM's new premium rear-wheel drive Sigma platform was to see production in the 2002 Cadillac CTS. Holden's engineers were offered this platform, but decided it was not appropriate. The Sigma platform’s double A-arm front suspension and extensive use of aluminium were too costly for the VE's market segment. The luggage compartment was deemed too small and the Sigma interior package could not be stretched sufficiently to become a family-sized car. In particular, the rear-seat shoulder width was too tight. These major drawbacks made Holden decide to develop an all new platform, known as the GM Zeta platform, on which a number of forthcoming General Motors vehicles will also be based.

Engine packaging became a contentious issue during development. Holden's designers wanted the engine positioned well behind the front axle to allow short overhangs and an overall sportier appearance, whereas the crash engineers were concerned that this would reduce the body's impact absorption in an accident. Negotiation between designers and crash engineers resulted in moving of some of the engine components, like the battery, into the boot feeing up valuable front-end space. By having the engine moved back and further down, the VE Commodore also benefits from near perfect 50:50 weight distribution across all variants, leading to superior handling. Crash engineers introduced several other safety initiatives, including relocating the fuel tank in front of the rear-axle line, instead of behind. A more crash-resistant rear-end was also seen as necessary. The design though had to incorporate a spacious boot and a spare-wheel bay that could house the largest-sized wheel to be fitted to the car. Crash test results from ANCAP rate the VE lower in the offset frontal impact test than the previous generation Commodore. The overall crash score was marginally higher than the outgoing VZ, due to improvements in side impact protection giving a score of 27.45 out of 37 or a four star rating out of a possible five.

Flex Vision
Interior type Trim level(s)
Functional Omega
Performance SV6
SS
SS V
Luxury Berlina
Calais
Calais V

Denny Mooney was appointed chairman of Holden on 1 January 2004, by which time development of the VE Commodore was well underway. Key design and engineering work was being finalised, and investment was already being made in making the tooling with which to manufacture the car. One of Mooney's priorities was to improve the perceived quality issues that surrounded the previous generations of Commodores. The interior quality benefited dramatically from this additional emphasis; Mooney pushed for panel gaps to be reduced by a further 0.5 millimetres (0.02 in) over previous targets. Smaller panel gaps are just one of the ways that Holden have developed the VE to pitch it against the European competitors. Through the use of advanced steels and intensive design, the body structure is 50 percent stiffer than the outgoing model, benefiting from noise and vibration reductions, handling and crash safety. However the new body has resulted in substantially increased weight over the outgoing model.

The development of the new car led Holden to redesign the Elizabeth plant in South Australia so that entire sections of the car can be assembled off the foremost production line. This new production method allows for complete sub-sections like the engine and transmissions to be constructed seamlessly together on rigs that simplify production. This process is applied to the front-end module of the VE Commodore, consisting of the headlights, bumpers, airbag sensors and other accessory components. It can be easily removed as one-piece leading to lower repair costs and easier access to the engine bay. This design represents the first time such a method has been used within General Motors, and garnered the SAE Australasia's 2006 Automotive Engineering Excellence Award. A modular design structure known within Holden as "Flex Vision" has been applied to the interior where fundamentally different components such as audio units and instrument clusters can be swapped out for the different Commodore variants, creating radically varied interior look and feel without much higher costs. The upshot of this is much greater differentiation between the variants than the outgoing model creating three distinct interior looks, dubbed: Functional, Performance and Luxury. The closely related long-wheelbase WM Statesman features a fourth interior type referred to as Prestige.

Additional detail touches were added to the VE, such as a new four-strut hinge system for the boot to replace space intrusive, much maligned "gooseneck" hinges as used on previous Commodores. High-specification variants see expandable door pockets and a Saab-like "blackout" feature which illuminates only the speedometer at night to enhance driver focus on the road. An innovative flush-fitting handbrake set into a symmetrical centre console means the lever can be easily reversed to sit on the opposite side of console for left-hand drive export markets, minimising redesign costs.

Sportwagon

Introduced in 2008, the AU$110 million VE Sportwagon programme represented a departure from previous Commodore station wagons. Holden was concerned that the traditional wagon market was being severely eroded by growing sport utility vehicle (SUV) sales and over-reliance on fleet purchasing. Up to 90 percent of VZ wagons were bought by fleet companies and Holden sought to attract more retail customers. The decision was made to develop a sportier, more stylish wagon as an alternative to SUVs. The Sportwagon, unlike the previous VZ wagon, which shared its long-wheelbase with the Statesman is built on the same short-wheelbase platform as the sedan. This shift in thinking means cargo capacity is reduced from VZ's to but the sedan's near 50:50 weight distribution is retained. The Sportwagon is styled with an aggressively sloping rear profile. To ensure the cargo opening is sufficiently large with such a profile, the tailgate hinges part way up the roof line, akin to the arrangement on the Chrysler 300 wagon and its Dodge Magnum twin. The design of the tailgate is compact enough to open in just of space, a publicised feature in Sportwagon television commercials.

Revisions were made to the suspension over the sedan's setup. These included stiffer springs, anti-roll bar changes and an additional ball-joint in the rear suspension to handle the extra load. Weight increases by over the sedan. Aggressive pricing means Sportwagon variants of each specification level receive a AU$1,000 premium over the sedan and are cheaper than the outgoing VZ wagons.

Engine and mechanicals

Holden, concerned about the risks of introducing a new platform and drivetrain at the same time, introduced the Australian-built Alloytec V6 engine in the proven VZ model. This allowed time to address any issues or faults before fitting it to the VE. Power has increased over the VZ Commodore and engine noise reduced by using new timing chains, among other modifications. An updated version of the long-serving four-speed GM 4L60-E automatic transmission remains for the 180 kilowatt (241 hp) V6. Manual transmission options comprise of the Aisin AY6 and Tremec T-56 six-speeders. Two automatics featuring Active Select; the five-speed GM 5L40-E and six-speed GM 6L80-E are also employed. The latter is reserved exclusively for a modified L76 V8 engine, giving an extra 10 kilowatts (13 hp) of power compared to the VZ. This new engine designated L98 does not readily support fuel-saving Active Fuel Management technology, unlike the L76. Fuel economy figures for variants utilising the base 180 kilowatt (241 hp) V6 show a small reduction in consumption over the previous Alloytec engine at . Despite the improvement in efficiency for the standard V6, concerns were still levelled at the figures, which produced mixed results due to the heavier body.

New double-pivot MacPherson strut front suspension and a four-link independent rear suspension have been introduced on the VE to replace the previous simple MacPherson strut design front and much criticised semi-trailing arm rear suspension, for improved ride and handling.

In October 2006, Holden introduced a dual-fuel version of the Alloytec V6, available to the Omega and Berlina. Able to run on both petrol and LPG, it features an advanced sequential vapour gas injection (SVGI) system and hardened valve seats to cope. The dual-fuel V6 produces five kilowatts (7 hp) and five newton metres (5 ft·lbf) less than the conventional V6 when run on LPG, for a total of 175 kilowatts (235 hp). Although LPG prices are lower, the engine uses a large 100 kilogram (220 lb) cylindrical gas tank which causes decreased boot space and slightly increased fuel consumption. Holden was able to take advantage of a loophole in government legislation, allowing an AU$2,000 rebate on LPG installation because the unit is fitted post-production by Holden's customisation arm HSVi. Normally, people would only be entitled to a AU$1,000 rebate for new cars pre-installed with LPG. Due to the possibility that these dual-fuel Commodores may have been fitted with undersized O-rings in the service valve hand tap, Holden issued a recall affecting the first 981 of these models on 10 April 2007. There were also two VE recalls previous to this. The initial 16 October 2006 recall affecting 1,521 V8 Commodore and Statesman models involved a faulty fuel hose, causing a fuel smell to enter the cabin. A second 10 November 2006 recall affecting 12,830 early-build Commodores and Statesmans resulted from defective rear seat belt anchors. On 7 December 2007, another recall was issued for over 86,000 VE and WM V6 models. This was due to the possibility that one of the fuel lines in the engine compartment may have a rub condition with a fuel vapour hose clip, possibly causing a fuel smell to become evident.

Powertrains
Engine Displacement Power Torque Transmission Fuel economy
3.6 L Alloytec V6 4-speed GM 4L60-E automatic
3.6 L LPG Alloytec V6
3.6 L High Output Alloytec V6 6-speed Aisin AY6 manual
5-speed GM 5L40-E automatic
6.0 L Generation 4 Alloy V8 6-speed Tremec T-56 manual
6-speed GM 6L80-E automatic

Specification levels

Commodore Omega

Replacing the outgoing Commodore Executive and Acclaim, the Omega offers a halfway point in terms of equipment levels. The most significant gain over the Executive is the electronic stability control system (Bosch version 8.0) now standard across the range. Like all VE models, the Omega uses a "space saver" spare tyre, which has come under scrutiny. The tyre can be driven for 500 kilometres (300 mi) at a maximum speed of 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph). Concerns have been raised by the public over its usefulness in remote Australian outback areas, far from any tyre repair centres and asserts that it is a cost-cutting measure. Similar concerns have been raised in the media, although Holden maintains that this is a weight-saving feature and allows for full-size spare tyres to be purchased at an additional cost. Likewise, critics regarded optional air conditioning on the Omega as unforgivable considering Australia is a country well known for its overall hot climate. This, however, was rectified in an update to the Omega effective 15 March 2008 bringing also 16 inch alloy wheels, body colour wing mirrors and door handles, a revised grille and six airbags as standard, up from dual front airbags.

In a bid to increase sales, Holden have offered three limited edition "value added" models based on the Omega:

  • Commodore V-Series: was introduced in October 2006, fitted with air conditioning, and a sports-oriented body kit including 17 inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and colour-matched wing mirrors and exterior door handles.
  • Commodore Lumina: debuted in June 2007 with a luxury theme including the Berlina grille. Specified identically to the V-Series with exception to the rear spoiler equipment, the Lumina sees the addition of rear parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity.
  • Commodore 60th Anniversary: released in May 2008 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 48-215, Holden's first vehicle. Aside from the 18 inch alloy wheels, leather seat inserts, and "60th Anniversary" badging, it is essentially identical to the Lumina in terms of both equipment and styling.

Commodore SV6

Building on the Omega, the SV6 is equipped with the more powerful High Output variant of the Alloytec V6 engine, coupled to a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Air conditioning, a key feature missing on the Omega at launch, comes standard on the SV6. A body kit and sports suspension similar to the V8 Commodore SS/SS V variants is also fitted. The SV6 sports the Performance interior look, characterised by an accentuated matte black centre console and red lighting, as opposed to the silver Functional-style interior of the Omega.

Commodore SS

Offering similar equipment levels to the SV6, the Commodore SS uses the 6.0 litre V8 engine and T-56 six-speed manual transmission. The SS is recognisable from its quad exhaust outlets in place of the SV6 dual outlets. The resulting specification level is much higher than the outgoing minimalist SV8 and only missing a few cosmetic touches of the previous flagship Commodore SS. Since its release, the SS has won two consecutive (2006 and 2007) Bang For Your Bucks awards, a Motor magazine initiative. The judges gave preference to the SS the second-time-round because "the VE Commodore SS really does represent the biggest bang you'll ever get for your bucks like these.

A more upmarket SS, the SS V-Series represents the first time this type of naming has been applied to Holden products. The V-Series naming is reminiscent of the V-badging on selected Cadillac models, another member of the General Motors family. The badge design on the bootlid bears strong resemblance to the ones used by Cadillac. But whereas Cadillac uses it to signify high-performance versions of its products, Holden V-Series variants boast extra features. The V-Series variants were introduced, largely due to a fully optioned Commodore SS in the VZ range being rather successful. The SS V offers extra luxuries at a similar price point to the preceding SS. Inside, it is recognisable by the metallic look pedals and instruments matched with the exterior colour. Additionally, the entire dashboard can be optioned in a range of loud colours: bright red, orange or black. The SS V exterior is equally adventurous, exhibiting five-spoke 19 inch (480 mm) alloy wheels and the option of larger 20 inch (500 mm) wheels: the largest wheels ever fitted to a Holden car.

  • SS V 60th Anniversary:

Berlina

Priced lower than the outgoing model, the second tier Berlina retains a similar amount of equipment. The exterior styling is similar to the Omega but gaining extra touches such as front fog lamps and seven-spoke 17 inch (430 mm) alloy wheels. It features the Luxury-type interior with a large LCD centre display and is the only model in the VE range that features wood grain highlights. These accents were removed during early 2007 in the MY2008 models replaced with a matte silver dashboard strip as part of a number of unannounced running changes introduced throughout the VE's life.

Calais

Like the Berlina, the Calais retains the features of the outgoing model but at a significantly lower price point. Offering a blend of luxury and sporting character, it pairs the High Output Alloytec V6 engine of the SV6 with the five-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the previous model Calais which featured a semi-sport suspension setup known as FE1.5, the VE shares the Commodore SS/SS V stiff sports suspension. Like the SS, an upscale V-Series edition is available. Being the flagship of the Commodore range, it comes with everything the VE has to offer and serves as a stepping stone to the luxury long-wheelbase Statesman range based on the VE.

  • Calais V International:
  • Calais V 60th Anniversary:

Launch, sales and reception

Australian sales
Year Units sold
2006 (October–December) 15,581
2007 57,306
2008 (January–September) 37,506
Total 110,393

Official manufacture began at Holden's Elizabeth, South Australia production facility on 13 July 2006. Three days later, Holden publicly revealed the car at the Melbourne Convention Centre, broadcasted simultaneously via the Internet. The launch occurred alongside that of the flagship WM Statesman. Previous to this, Holden announced that VE station wagon and utility variants would be postponed and the VZ equivalents would remain in production. Sales of the VE-based Ute commenced on 22 August 2007. This was shortly followed by the unveiling of a Sportwagon concept, the production version of which was released in July 2008.

At the time of launch in Australia, Ford’s BF Falcon directly competed with the VE Commodore. In November 2006 Toyota released their key Aurion model to the Australian market. The front-wheel drive Mitsubishi 380 also indirectly competed with the Holden Commodore but has since been discontinued.

The VE Commodore was well received in the Australian market, where it has consistently outsold rivals in the large car segment. Its position as Australia's outright best selling car was challenged in 2007 by the Toyota Corolla in the face of increasing petrol prices and overtaken in 2008. The Commodore's sales at one point were nearly double that of its closest segment competitor, the Ford Falcon. However, Ford's release of a new FG Falcon model has narrowed the gap. In 2007 the VE Commodore became the fifth Commodore model to receive the prestigious Wheels Car of the Year award.

Apart from being sold in Australia, the full range is also available in New Zealand, while in the Middle East and South Africa the Commodore is re-branded as the Chevrolet Lumina. Sales of the Berlina began in 2007 for Brazilian market as the Chevrolet Omega, while exports to the United States began in 2008 badged as the Pontiac G8 in a deal to last the life cycle of the car. Unlike the Chevrolet Lumina and Omega, the Pontiac receives several unique features including a revised L76 engine with Active Fuel Management as opposed to the Commodore's L98, and appearance changes. The Pontiac G8 has been shortlisted for the 2009 North American Car of the Year award.

Notes

References

  • Butler, Glenn; Dowling, Joshua; Hagon, Toby; Newton, Bruce "VE Commodore eMag". 60. Retrieved on 2006-10-31.
  • McCarthy, Mike; McKay, Peter; Newton, Bruce; Robinson, Peter (2006). "2006 Collector's Edition VE Commodore: The Full Story". Wheels magazine 164.
  • Robinson, Peter (2006). AutoBiography: The inside story of Holden's all-new VE Commodore. Woolloomooloo, New South Wales: Focus Publishing.

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