Twenty years ago, the family sedan market was in ill health. A wide range of 11 models – including the Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon, Toyota Aurion, Mitsubishi Magna and Hyundai Grandeur – accounted for nearly 35 percent of all cars sold in Australia.
Fast forward to 2022 and there are only two family sedans left: the Kia Stinger and Skoda Superb.
In this context, it’s easier to understand why Holden struggled so much with his last Commodores. For there can be no doubt about it – the last Australian designed and built Commodores were truly world class cars.
Read more about the Holden Commodore
The design, production and dynamics of the 2006 VE Commodore were the best they had ever been and it only got better in 2013 with the arrival of the VF Commodore. The quality and breadth of the line-up made it a car that should have appealed to a wide range of people: the fleet-focused Omega, the sporty SV6, the muscular SS and the luxurious Calais, plus the Caprice, Ute with long wheelbase and sports car.
Instead, from the moment it arrived, sales of the Commodore were in a precipitous and ultimately terminal decline. This may have been the best Australian-made car ever, but it came at just the wrong time to succeed.
In hindsight, the VE/VF Commodore program was doomed from the start, but at the time it seemed the right move for a Holden who ranks high as the second best-selling brand in the country, only slightly behind a surging Toyota .
At least that was the case in 1999 when the VE Commodore project began. Until now, all previous Commodore models have been based on an iteration of an Opel-based foundation, but with the Opel Omega gone, Holden decided to develop his own platform for the Commodore that would seemingly take it to a bright future.
This was the birth of the so-called “billion-dollar baby,” as Holden and General Motors poured in huge sums of money to develop the “Zeta” platform that would, in theory, support a variety of GM models around the world.
The result was an all-new Commodore that was clearly a step beyond what had come before it in every way. This was a more polished and premium Commodore, a faster, sportier Commodore and a more versatile and versatile Commodore.
Everything suggested it was the right car for the right time… all that is, except an audience that still loved big cars.
Between the time Holden started the VE project in 1999 and the first car rolled off the production line in 2006, the family car market began to collapse. In ’99 Australians bought more than 200,000 large sedans and wagons, but by ’06 that number had fallen to just over 130,000. Sales of the Commodore matched the overall market decline, falling from over 85,000 in ’99 to just 56,000 in ’06.
Unfortunately for Holden, he was committed to the trail at this stage and by the time the VF Commodore arrived in 2013, the major car market had plummeted to just 47,066 annual sales. That’s a 77 percent drop since ’99, when the VE Commodore project began.
Despite the VF being an evolutionary improvement over the VE, sales continued to plummet, dropping to just 30,203 in its first full year of sales (2014).
Holden had produced his best car, but unfortunately it seemed that few Australians wanted to buy it.
Plans for the Zeta platform to support a variety of GM models were also eventually scrapped, after only the 2010-15 Chevrolet Camaro used it. Holden attempted to export the long-wheelbase Caprice to the US as a police car and the Commodore was renamed the Chevrolet SS, but both programs had limited success due to unfavorable exchange rates.
Production of the VF Commodore eventually ceased in 2017 and was, somewhat ironically, replaced by the Opel Insignia, effectively bringing the Commodore story full circle.
But that’s not really the end of the VF Commodore story. With Holden gone, it seems some Australians are appreciating how good the final locally made model was, with used car prices skyrocketing.
At the time of publication the most expensive VF Commodore advertised on Autotrader.com.au is a 2017 SS-V Redline Motorsport Edition with an asking price of $259,000† There are another dozen – mostly SS-V Motorsport Editions – advertised for more than six figures.
It seems that the right time has come for the VF Commodore.