By the time you read this, it will have ripped the air of New South Wales apart: Bathurst, The Great Race, the 1000km highlight of the Australian Supercars Championship.
This is the last Bathurst that will exclusively feature V8-powered Supercars. As of next year, twin-turbocharged V6s will gradually proliferate the grid.
Now, I’ve banged on enough about Supercars already this year, so I won’t start again. Especially given that, in the form of the BTCC, the UK is hardly short of its own thrilling race series featuring cars that look like ones you can buy off the street.
Instead, what I want to ref lect on today is a big month for Australian motoring, and one which, mirrored here, might affect us all. Because more significant than any Antipodean racing changes is the fact that later this month production at Holden’s Adelaide plant will close and the last Commodore, the domestically produced Holden – GM’s indigenous Australian arm – will roll from the line.
The Commodore, which we know here as the Vauxhall VXR8, is one of the big, traditional Australian two. Holden versus Ford, Commodore versus Falcon. It defined Australian touring car racing, just as it defined the Australian car market, until imports opened up, Hyundais and Toyotas started rolling in and tastes veered towards something smaller, something cheaper, something less V8-ish. Falcon production finished last year and there was always an inevitability about this outcome too.
Does it matter? To anyone in this hemisphere, not so much, beyond the couple-of-dozen people a year who want a VXR8. After all, it didn’t even mean enough to most Australians for them to do anything about it. The Commodore’s break-even was said to be around 60,000 cars a year. Towards the end, Australians were only buying half that. Which is a shame, because it’s a good car.
In its place will come a new Commodore, though that will be based on the Insignia that we get over here. Now, I dare say Holden would like the number of Commodores it sells to increase, but it doesn’t think it will. And here’s the thing: even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Because even if you only sell 20,000 imported Insignias a year, badged as Commodores, then that’s 20,000 added to the volume of a car whose development cost has already pretty much been met, whose factories have been constructed, and it frees you from the burden of developing an entire bespoke model.
So you can sell fewer of them, and yet make more money. And that, then, is something that might affect all of us. We buy cars made specifically for the European market, perhaps because we like the cut of that car’s jib.
But making or optimising cars for specific markets is hard work and, more than that, it is expensive work. And if that case gets marginal, and if the car maker offering that vehicle to you doesn’t have a premium badge, and has a similarly sized model elsewhere where perhaps dynamics, interior quality and design aren’t so important as they are here?
Well, you can see which way things might go, and that’s towards offering products built for the world that perhaps don’t work quite as we’d like them to. So, like the sound of racing V8 engines, make the most of them while it lasts.