Chevrolet Commodore ready to go
By MARTON PETTENDY 28 April 2009
UP TO 40,000 Chevrolet-badged Commodore police vehicles could be exported to the US annually in a deal that would eclipse GM Holden’s current North American export program, which was axed along with the Pontiac brand by General Motors last night.
GoAuto has learned that a plan to supply hi-tech Australian-made patrol cars to US law enforcement agencies – led by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) – could be joined by lucrative police vehicle exports to Canada, the UK and the Middle East.
And while the prospects of reviving plans to sell the Holden Ute in the US as a GMC continue to exist, it is understood the now-defunct Commodore-based Pontiac G8 has a good chance of morphing into a full-time Chevrolet model for US public consumption.
In an ironic twist, if green-lighted, the police project could see Holden’s Commodore effectively replace Ford’s aged Crown Victoria as the vehicle of choice for many US police departments, which require large, V8-powered rear-drive sedans.
The Crown Victoria, which was discontinued from public sale in 2008 and will be phased out of production for US fleet customers next year, has long been touted as Ford Australia’s most obvious US export opportunity for the Falcon.
Some US police departments have already adopted Dodge’s new Charger, but the Crown Victoria still attracts 60,000 annual sales for Ford, representing a potentially massive export opportunity for Holden.
Officially, Holden remains cautious about spruiking the prospects of sending Commodores to the US as part of a police vehicle export program, but national media relations manager Scott Whiffin admitted to GoAuto this week that a Pontiac G8-based LAPD prototype produced by Port Melbourne-based National Safety Agency (NSA) has “enormous” potential.
“That’s certainly something that is being looked at very closely,” Mr Whiffin revealed. “We are looking at all opportunities.
“Holden has a really good reputation for seeking out opportunities in the marketplace and benefiting from them, and our work starts now in terms of finding new opportunities for this vehicle.
“The law enforcement opportunity is one and certainly we’re looking at that without going too far too fast.”
NSA operations director Des Bahr, who will next week present his company’s LAPD Prototype Vehicle concept to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was more forthcoming about the project, which has also received interest from law enforcement groups in the UK, Middle East and Asia.
The left-hand drive Pontiac police car, which was jointly developed by the NSA and the LAPD – which is believed to be highly enthusiastic about the project – was launched by the LAPD’s deputy chief Charles Beck at the 2009 APCO Australasia Conference & Exhibition, held at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney over March 2-4.
Mr Bahr said his company was in talks with nine separate US law enforcement jurisdictions, which together represent a fleet of up to 40,000 vehicles a year.
“The potential is enormous, given that we’ve got nine jurisdictions interested and even that alone is tens of thousands of cars,” Mr Bahr told GoAuto this week. “They are interested in the project to determine whether this, which could be deemed as a replacement for the Crown Victoria, is suitable for their environment.
“We’re talking in the vicinity of 30,000 to 40,000 cars annually or at least every couple of years based on the kilometres they do.
“We’re only in the early stages, but apart from the US there has been interest in the UK and Canada. We’re due to fly to the US next week to present to some interested groups in Canada, so it’s gaining a lot of momentum over there.”
Mr Bahr said interest in the vehicle had also come from the Middle East as late as last week.
“That’s in the early stages of understanding what we’re doing with the project to determine whether the Asia region could piggyback off that as well, so there’s literally huge potential,” he said.
Mr Bahr said two examples of the LAPD Pontiac G8 would be sent to the US for testing by mid-year.
Mr Bahr said that while he was awaiting official confirmation from Holden in relation to how the project could be affected by GM’s latest restructuring announcement, the LAPD project vehicle’s presentation to law enforcement groups globally would not be affected.
“This is an NSA project,” he said. “We’ve just chosen the GM platform to display what we’re producing at our end, so there are a couple of components: the car itself as a patrol vehicle and an extension of that is the integrated technology that we’re proposing to put into the vehicle.
“We’ve chosen the G8 platform on which to build the vehicle given that a lot of the earlier research was done on the Commodore platform.
“It was easy to adopt that research and technology onto the same car which is accepted in the US market, so it’s through a working relationship we have with LAPD and we brought GM into that to participate.”
He said the vehicle could be modified locally by Australian suppliers for export as a turn-key product.
“We have arrangements with other organisations that do (have the ability to series produce the LAPD prototype), but our involvement would be for the installation and fit-out of what we call the turn-key technology for that vehicle,” said Mr Bahr.
“At this stage it’s a concept to be sent to the US for acceptance or otherwise for suitability, but we have been working with LAPD for the last few years, sharing information on the research we have been doing. So it’s about adopting integrated solutions that they’re already familiar with on a new platform.
“We are looking forward to developing this vehicle with the LAPD and Australian industry. This project will break down the barriers between agencies worldwide, leading to a common platform to provide maximum benefit to those who are charged with protecting our communities.”
Chevrolet Commodore ready to go
GoAuto understands that if a deal is struck with the LAPD, which is regarded within Holden as a test-case for other US police jurisdictions, the LAPD vehicle would most likely be badged as a Chevrolet – not a Pontiac.
In turn, it is understood that could lead to retail exports to the US of the Commodore, which finally appears to have gained ‘traction’ in the US market despite a recent lack of promotion and could be sold as a performance model within the Chevrolet Performance Division, which is the US equivalent of HSV.
When asked whether GM would shift any of Pontiac’s models to other brands, GM CEO Fritz Henderson said: “Solstice… no. Vibe we’re talking with Toyota about and may run it into the 2010 model year as one of the last Pontiacs remaining.” But he made no reference to the G8.
Holden already exports a left-hand drive Chevrolet-badged Commodore to the Middle East – and South Africa – as the Lumina, which means the basic modifications needed to prepare the car for sale as a Chevy in the US have already been done.
Holden has also exported a police car based on the previous-generation platform architecture to the Middle East, New Zealand and elsewhere.
If approved for export, the Chev-badged Commodore could be positioned above the Barina-based Chev Aveo and the mid-sized Malibu, and sold either alongside or instead of the full-size front-drive Impala sedan, which is due to be replaced in 2012.