Holden Calais unveiled, previews Chevrolet SSSat, 09 Feb 2013
General Motors' Australian subsidiary, Holden, has revealed its new VF series Calais -- the rear-wheel-drive sedan that in top-of-the-line, V8-powered, left-hand-drive form -- will be exported to North America and sold as the Chevrolet SS.
The new Calais sits at the top of what Holden describes as an “extensively upgraded Commodore” range, with right-hand-drive Australian sales set to get underway in June.
The Holden Commodore and its more luxurious Calais derivative have underpinned General Motors' sales in Australia since its introduction in 1978. Over the past 35 years, it has undergone four distinct generational changes, with the VF representing a major revision of its predecessor, the VE.
The Commodore and Calais were Australia's No. 1 selling car for a record 15 years before surrendering that position to the Mazda3 in 2012.
Describing the new model, the chairman of Holden, Mike Devereux, said, “No other car created in Australia is as technologically advanced. We're proud it will be exported to the USA for General Motors' biggest global brand, Chevrolet."
The new Holden Commodore/Calais will feature an automatic parking feature, a reverse traffic alert, blind-spot assistance, forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, head-up display and the latest version of General Motors' MyLink infotainment system, all of which are likely to show up on the Chevy SS.
MyLink caters to smartphone apps, including Internet radio providers such as Pandora, TuneIn Radio and Stitcher, and navigation function BringGo Nav. It is planned to eventually support Apple's Siri speech function, as well as Facebook and Twitter.
All features are planned to be offered on the Chevrolet SS, according to Detroit-based General Motors sources
Styled at Holden's design studio in Melbourne, Australia, the new upmarket sedan builds on the look of its predecessor. Full details are yet to be revealed, although every panel save for the doors appear to have been altered in what amounts to a major visual upgrade for the Commodore/Calais.
The dimensions of the VF are said to be close to the outgoing VE model, which measures 192.7 inches in length, 74.8 inches in width and 58.0 inches in height.
Along with its new look exterior, the Holden also receives a contemporary interior that sources suggest forms the template for the appearance of a new generation of cabin designs set to be brought to a range of GM products in future years, including unspecified North American models.
Together with a fresh dashboard and center-stack design, the car receives higher-quality materials and more advanced infotainment systems than its immediate predecessor.
The head of Holden's design operations, Andrew Smith, says the aim with the design of the interior was to create an environment boasting a richer and more cohesive feel.
“We set out to over deliver," he said. "Consequently, there's a level of refinement you would expect of a high-end European product.”
The basis for the new Commodore/Calais is General Motors' rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform -- as found beneath the outgoing Commodore/Calais and Chevrolet Camaro. In the proceeding model, it boasted a 114.7-inch wheelbase, which is expected to remain unchanged.
Holden has focused a significant amount of development work on improving the structure's NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) properties and reducing weight through the adoption of a greater percentage of aluminum and tailored blank steel.
The suspension uses a combination of MacPherson struts with a dual-ball joint lower an arm design up front and a four-link independent arrangement at the rear.
Holden is yet to official confirm the engine lineup for the new Commodore/Calais.
The outgoing VE model, on sale since 2006, was offered in Australia with the choice of a naturally aspirated 255-hp 3.0-liter and 281-hp 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 together with a naturally aspirated 362-hp 6.0-liter multi-point fuel-injected V8.
The two V6 engines are expected to be carried over with subtle upgrades to improve fuel economy, while the latter is likely to be replaced by the 400-hp, naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 (L99) used in the Chevrolet Camaro -- a car that was engineered and developed by Holden and shares much of its mechanical package with the outgoing VE Commodore but is produced at General Motors' production facilities in Michigan.
Engine plans for the Chevrolet SS are similarly clouded, although Autoweek sources suggest it could receive both the 3.6-liter V6 and 6.2-liter V8, with the likelihood of even more powerful 426-hp (LS3) engine appearing at a later date.
But, recent indications are that Holden may bypass this engine altogether and fit the fastest of its Calais models with the new and more contemporary 6.2-liter V8 (LT1) unit recently unveiled in the Corvette, where it develops 450 hp.
There are also rumors suggesting Holden's Special Vehicles division will fit the 578-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V8 (LSA) engine from the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Cadillac CTS-V to the Commodore/Calais to create a BMW M5-challenging model.
The man behind the resurrection of the iconic Chevrolet model is Mark Reuss, president of GM's North American operations. Reuss has a good understanding of the latest Calais and its more affordable Commodore siblings, having acted as Holden chairman for two years between 2008 and 2009, in which time he oversaw initial development and engineering of the Holden's linchpin models.
The Holden-Calais-to-the-U.S. strategy has been tried before with the Pontiac GTO and Pontiac G8, neither of which managed to generate the sort of sales originally expected. Reuss claims the Chevrolet SS move is different, as it is being pitched more upmarket and in smaller volumes.
Asked to describe the new car recently, Reuss said, “It's like a four-door Corvette."
The Chevrolet SS is planned to make its debut appearance at a presentation to be held on the sidelines of the Daytona 500 later in February. The location and date has been chosen to coincide with the race debut of the new Chevrolet SS race car.
The Holden Commodre/Calais was designed and engineered in Australia as part of a significant investment program that has secured the General Motors' subsidiary's manufacturing operations until at least 2022.
Production of the new sedan, including left-hand drive versions set to take the Chevrolet SS name, will take place at Holden's manufacturing facilities in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth, South Australia.
By Greg Kable