HERE is the vehicle GM Holden said would never eventuate.
After declaring in no uncertain terms that it would not produce a replacement for the discontinued VZ Crewman, Holden now says the four-door GMC Denali XT concept it developed for today’s 2008 Chicago Auto Show opening could effectively become an all-new VE Commodore-based dual-cab ute.
Officially, the GMC-badged Denali is strictly a concept that showcases the global design and engineering capability of Holden, which designed and constructed the show vehicle using the worldwide resources of parent company General Motors at its Port Melbourne headquarters.
However, if it enters series production, the four-seater Denali ute would become the GMC brand’s first passenger car-based (monocoque-chassis) pickup truck in the US – as well as a direct successor to Holden’s now-defunct five-seater Crewman here.
“(VE) sedan, ute and wagon is the plan at this stage, but obviously if something like Denali went into production, it will effectively replace Crewman here,” GM Holden director of marketing Philip Brook told GoAuto.
“Of course, it could be purely a concept and we have absolutely no plans to extend the VE range, but if it (Denali) was developed it’s something we’d definitely look at.
“The basis of all this is that our engineering and design guys are now doing a lot of work for markets outside Australia, although their core work is still for Australia at this stage,” said Mr Brook.
The Holden marketing chief reiterated comments made by GM product chief Bob Lutz at the Detroit motor show last month, when he confirmed a dual-cab GMC pick-up concept would emerge as a logical recipient of a Holden badge.
“That is a global design study – and a very interesting study in that it is a GMC tough-looking four-door ute that could then obviously be badged as a Holden for Australia,” said Mr Lutz.
“It is very tough looking, with a sport-utility look that is very low, very aggressive looking, a blend between a sport utility and the classic Australian four-door ute... You’re going to have to ask (new Holden chairman and managing director) Mark Reuss whether (a VE Crewman) is dead or not, but this concept is basically a reprisal of the Crewman in a more modern form,” he said.
Question marks remain over whether the vehicle, if mass-produced - will be built in Australia or imported from overseas, but both men appear to have contradicted statements made by former GM Holden director of engineer Tony Hyde at the VE Ute launch last September.
“I can assure you there will be no One-Tonner or Crewman,” said Mr Hyde at the time. “We’ve been there and we can’t make any money out of it and nobody wanted to buy it. This is why we got out of the business.
“Besides, we don’t want anything different going down the line at the plant. We want all the cars to have the same front and rear suspension.”
“Even if marketing wanted it, we’ve run out of puff – in terms of engineering resources and how much money it costs,” Mr Hyde added.
“The good times have long gone, from the point of view of sitting around on mountains of cash and wondering what to do with it... so it’s just not going to happen.
“Whatever happens in the future is because of the global effort,” said Mr Hyde.
Holden is expected to gauge the Australian market potential of Denali by exhibiting the concept at the Melbourne motor show late this month, alongside another Fishermen’s Bend-develop concept that will attempt to spoil Ford’s party as it stages the first public appearance of its redesigned ‘Orion’ Falcon ahead of its May release.
The GMC concept is underpinned by a stretched version of the VE Commodore’s modular rear-wheel drive ‘Zeta’ platform, which Holden has also used to develop the 2009 Camaro coupe and cabriolet for Chevrolet in its role as GM’s large rear-drive model engineering ‘home room’.
It features a significantly longer wheelbase than the VE Ute (and therefore the WM Statesman/Caprice) at 3134mm and is also 152mm longer overall at 5207mm, as well as wider (1938mm) and higher (1587mm).
Despite being powered by a 243kW direct-injection (“SIDI”) 4.9-litre V8 (which can run on either pure petrol or an 85 per cent ethanol mix, features fuel-saving cylinder deactivation technology dubbed Active Fuel Management and is mated to GM’s two-mode hybrid system), the Denali’s official estimated towing capacity of 1587kg is slightly less than that of the Crewman V6 (1600kg), while its payload is less than half that of the Crewman at just 499kg.
The engine is based on the petrol-electric 6.0-litre V8 already in production on other GM models, but is the first to be compatible with E85.
At 1.4 metres long, the Denali’s tray is the same length as the Crewman’s but can be extended by folding the two rear seats and removing the ‘Midgate’ section – a feature that’s unlikely to appear on any potential production model. The Denali show car rides on air suspension but there is no mention of side or curtain airbags in GM’s Denali press release, indicating Holden has not advanced the likelihood of them becoming available on the VE Ute. Mr Hyde had said at its launch that Holden was working on incorporating both safety features into its new utility.
Mr Lutz said that the lighter weight of the rear-drive, unitary-construction Denali would bring considerable fuel consumption advantages over similar full-chassis pick-up designs from GMC, which is positioned as GM’s premium truck division in the US – between Chevrolet and Cadillac.
“We said to Holden’s designers that if we really have to get much better fuel economy in full-sized pick-up trucks, and we have to go away from framed vehicles to get the lower mass of unitised vehicles, wouldn’t you like to do a really tough-looking Crewman, but that is much lighter than a conventional GMC full-sized pick-up,” he said in Detroit.
“The first time you see it, you might go ‘Whoa! I’m not sure I like this!’… because it is so tough and masculine looking. But the longer you look at the proportions the more right it looks for the type of image that it is trying to portray.”
The Denali’s muscular design was overseen by Warrack Leach from the Holden Design team in Melbourne – the same man who styled the VE Ute. It comprises massively pumped-out wheel-arches, a huge grille, 23-inch alloy wheels, a low-slung roofline and a sportscar-like rising waistline.
“This was a great program to work on as I was given the opportunity to really stretch the limits of the Global Rear Wheel Drive architecture and create a truck with unique and bold proportions,” said Mr Leach.
“GMC has such a rich heritage of producing great trucks and it was essential we kept that in mind while at the same time exploring how far we could take this concept.
“The form language is smooth and structured to characterize GMC’s power. The details have a deliberately contrasting mechanical aesthetic to mark GMC’s engineering sophistication.”
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