Cruze club

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Car News - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­

THIS week the auto fo­cus is fixed on Holden. But it’s fixed on the wrong car.

The VF Com­modore is headed for pre­dictable and well-de­served suc­cess. What’s far less pre­dictable is the fu­ture of the com­pact Cruze.

It’s the car for which Holden won lo­cal pro­duc­tion even though it would have been far eas­ier, and prob­a­bly cheaper, to have driven them off boats from Korea.

The Cruze got off to a shaky start be­cause it was ba­si­cally a Korean-built, price-fo­cused car with some lo­cal Holden tweak­ing, and also be­cause it faced ridicu­lously tough com­pe­ti­tion in the most rowdy seg­ment of Aussie mo­tor­ing. It also needed to be cheaper. Mazda shows ev­ery month that Aus­tralians pre­fer baby cars over any­thing else, with Toy­ota get­ting ready for a se­ri­ous run at No.1 with its Corolla. The Cruze is still not a star and its un­der­whelm­ing sales per­for­mance last year was one of the rea­sons for Holden’s record fi­nan­cial loss in 2012.

The Cars­guide crew has al­ways wanted to like the Cruze, even in a field that now in­cludes the stand­out Volk­swa­gen Golf MkVII and such wor­thies as the Hyundai i30, Kia Cer­ato, Mazda3 and new Corolla.

A quick look at the num­bers il­lus­trates the prob­lem. By the end of April, Mazda3 had tal­lied 13,351 and Corolla 13,134. Just 7992 new Cruzes had been de­liv­ered, down by 24 per cent on the same pe­riod last year, in con­trast with in­creases of 13.3 per cent for the Mazda and 15.9 per cent for the Corolla.

I’ve just jumped into the lat­est Cruze and dis­cov­ered there is now no prob­lem with it.

It is comfy and cushy, gets along well enough, has a slick new six-speed au­to­matic, and has the sort of in­te­rior touches — fab­ric on the dash among them— that help it stand out in a (very big) crowd. It also helps a lot that the start­ing price is down to $19,490.

The 2014 Cruze, as Holden calls it, is still not a Golf but it stands a lot taller among the i30 and Corolla crowd. As it must, be­cause the fu­ture of the Cruze is as vi­tal to Holden’s fu­ture as any­thing re­lated to the Com­modore.

Putting it into lo­cal pro­duc­tion was a huge gam­ble and, de­spite bar­rowloads of cash from Can­berra, the pro­ject needs long-term prospects to en­sure a fu­ture for the com­pany’s fac­tory in Ade­laide post-2016 when the Com­modore re­tires.

Ford looked at adding the Fo­cus to its lo­cal pro­duc­tion ros­ter to bal­ance the down­turn on Fal­con, but it couldn’t make the num­bers work be­cause small cars cus­tom­ar­ily mean small prof­its.

Holden made the right call at the right time for its sur­vival as a lo­cal maker. Now it also has the right car. It’s also the right time to give the Cruze a sec­ond chance.

Don’t be sur­prised if you like what you find. This re­porter is on Twit­ter @paulward­gover

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