One of the Australasian motor industry's big news stories of the moment is the coming launch of a brand-new VF Series Holden Commodore.
Across the Tasman, the Aussie motoring journoes are going nuts about it.
They're all clamouring to get to the Daytona Raceway in the USA in late February where General Motors is scheduled to reveal its all-new V8-powered Chevrolet SS performance sedan, which will actually be a rebadged Commodore VF exported from Australia.
The car is being revealed at the Daytona 500 because GM also intends racing it as a Chevy in the 2013 Nascar series - and this race- going version will make its debut performance at the big event.
The public launch of the VF Commodore won't be until some weeks later - probably some time during the second quarter of next year - but at least the Daytona event will give the media some indication of what the car will look like.
Meanwhile there's an enjoyable cat-and-mouse game being played between the Holden people and the media, with journalists continually firing loaded questions to Holden representatives and the Holden people continually ducking them.
Last week, a group of New Zealand journalists got into the game when they attended the Australasian launch of other Holden vehicles in Melbourne.
There, Holden New Zealand managing director Jeff Murray got all tantalising when he declared that "the VF is coming to town."
"There has been significant work done to this car to make it relevant again," he told journalists, a reference to the fact that sales of both the Commodore and its Aussie rear-driven large car arch-rival the Ford Falcon are both suffering from changing consumer preferences.
"It's going to have all-new sheet metal, a new interior, and there will be significant fuel savings - the VF Commodore will have fuel consumption comparable to some four-cylinder cars."
Mr Murray wouldn't go any further on just how this is to be achieved. "I can't say what the powertrains will be," was all he would say.
Meanwhile, the VE Commodore is now officially in runout. It's doing that via the marketing of special edition Z-Series models which, in usual runout fashion, offer all sorts of extras.
It looks to be working, too.
Whereas last year a total of 2381 Commodores were sold in New Zealand, year-to-date sales to the end of November this year have been 2299 of the big Holdens.
November saw 171 of the cars sold, so if the same can be achieved this month, the 2012 calendar year will end with Commodore sales better than the previous year - not bad for the model series literally on its last legs.
The Z-Series range is available as 'sport' and 'comfort' models across all the VE body styles.
As one last hurrah for the VE Commodore, I've just been driving one of the sport models, a $57,890 SV6 Sportwagon. As part of the Z treatment, it gets 19-inch alloy wheels, a rear-view camera, rear park assist, leather-bolstered seats, and 'Z-Series' carpet mats.
I've got a bit of a soft spot for the VE Commodore. Introduced six years ago, it was the first Commodore to be developed exclusively by Holden in Australia.
And I've a soft spot for the Sportwagon, too. Because, instead of simply being a wagon version of the sedan, it was instead a $110 million independent development introduced in 2008 to counter the erosion of wagon sales by those new-fangled SUV-style vehicles.
But has it worked? Well - no. These days the large-car segment - of which the Sportwagon is a part - has shrunk so much it now accounts for a measly 5.4 per cent of New Zealand's new-car market, while the large SUV segment has grown so much it takes up 14.7 per cent of sales.
It all makes one wonder whether GM-Holden will even bother with a wagon version of the coming VF Commodore. There was no mention of it during last week's media conference - which ironically was to launch yet another large SUV, the Korean- sourced Colorado 7.
Personally and probably selfishly, I hope there will be another wagon, if only because the current VE series Sportwagon is such a uniquely Australian vehicle.
Powered by a meaty 3.0-litre direct-injection DOHC V6 that offers 190 kilowatts of power and 290 Newton metres of torque, and which is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the vehicle remains a very good drive.
During the few days I had the SV6 Z-Series for road test, I enjoyed being able to throw my golf clubs into the vehicle's 486-litre rear cargo area, which can be increased to 2000 litres when the rear seats are folded down. That's a lot of big-car load space.
Of course, you can also do this sort of thing with a large SUV, but somehow it's not the same simply because an SUV is not a wagon - and wagons have been a part of the New Zealand motoring landscape for a long time.
So is this last hurrah for the VE Commodore also the last hurrah for a Commodore wagon? We'll have to wait and see, but I certainly hope not.
- Taranaki Daily News
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