Big Apple Aussie
Pontiac wants Americans to give our ute a new name, writes JAMES STANFORD in New York
START spreading the news — the Holden ute has made its American debut under New York’s bright lights. The Australian worker wore a Pontiac badge when it was presented at the New York Motor Show yesterday.
The ute is aligned with the Pontiac G8, which is based on the Commodore sedan. The G8 has just gone on sale in the US.
The sedan and the ute have the same front end with hard lines and twin bonnet-scoop nostrils.
Pontiac presented the ute as the G8 sports truck. Pontiac will run a public competition to determine a better name.
Whatever it is called, the fact a US brand is importing the Australianmade Holden ute is big news.
The company has tried for more than 10 years to strike a deal for its car-based ute to be sold in the US.
It came close with the previousgeneration model when Peter Hanenberger was at the helm, but the project fell over.
General Motors, which along with Ford and Chrysler is facing declining sales of its home-grown pick-up trucks, has seen a gap in the market and the G8 ute will fill it.
Pontiac describes it as a segmentbending vehicle, a cross between a car and pick-up truck.
‘‘There’s simply nothing else like the G8 sports truck on the road today, and we definitely believe there will be customers who will be excited by its distinctive design, performance and cargo capabilities,’’ the general manager of Buick, GMC and Pontiac, Jim Burnell, says.
The big question is whether Americans will understand the G8 ute— that is, will they appreciate the brilliant handling that has seen the Australian Holden and Ford utes shake the workhorse tag and become quasi two-door sports cars as in their home market?
Car-based utes have been sold in the US before. The Ford Ranchero, GMC Caballero and Chevrolet El Camino sold strongly in the 1970s, before all three were killed off in the 1980s because of weak demand. GM Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss is a fan of the new ute. He also has fond memories of the El Camino, but says he is unsure how the new ute will be accepted in the US.
Asked how many Pontiac utes Holden would be making, Reuss says that would be hard to predict.
‘‘The car-based ute went out of production because no one wanted to buy it. This one is terrific, but I just don’t know,’’ he says.
Production of the Pontiac ute will increase in the second half of next year.
The model shown in New York was close to the specification of a Holden SS Ute, with a 270kW 6.0-litre GEN IV V8, except the engine has Active Fuel Management technology, which shuts down cylinders to save fuel when there is little load on the engine.
The same feature is expected to be available on Australian Holdens with the V8 in the near future.
Side and curtain airbags, which are not available on Holden utes, have been fitted to the Pontiac ute in New York. They are also expected to be offered on Australian utes.
Best of both worlds: the Holden ute is being described by Pontiac as a segment-bending vehicle, a cross between a car and pick-up truck.