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