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Holden-based Pontiac creates new segment in US

 

Pontiac’s new G8 sport truck which is due to go on sale in the United States this year is a good example of how Holden has developed the Commodore-based Ute into “a sports car with a load tray.”


The good money on both sides of the Tasman after General Motors’ product guru Bob Lutz started taking an interest in the Commodore SS Ute was that it would form the basis of a revival of the Chevrolet El Camino which pioneered the American car-based utility truck genre in 1959. Stood to reason, really; Chevy had had the El Camino, so if the Commodore was to turn up as a US market light truck it would wear the Bowtie brand, wouldn’t it? After all, the new VE Commodore will provide the chassis platform for the soon to be available new Camaro.

Well, we Down Under pundits got that wrong, just as our American counterparts did. The Americans thought the Commodore would surface wearing the GMC label, a brand that traditionally has been confined to light commercials.
GMC had a version of the El Camino in its line-up during the 1960s and 1970s, a more utilitarian edition called the Caballero. Adding credence to that was the fact that GM was establishing triple-line dealerships selling Buick, Pontiac and GMC.


What put us all off the track was Holden’s relentless development of its workhorse into a lifestyle vehicle and a sporting lifestyle vehicle at that. You can buy a utilitarian version of the new VE Ute, the Omega, but the new Holden light truck is now much more sporting ride than tradesperson’s hauler. We should have taken note, too, of where Commodore-based product has been turning up Stateside. The first to break in, the last Monaro, did so under the Pontiac brand as a modern incarnation – not well-received by chauvinistic US muscle car fans – of the legendary GTO. And the VE Commodore/HSV blend is selling there as the G8.


And that’s where what we down here thought of as the new El Camino and the Americans thought of as the 2009 Caballero, has turned up – under GM USA’s performance brand, Pontiac. Leading US magazine, Motor Trend, quoted a GM product manager as saying the Ute – pick-up in American-speak – was too sporty to be a GMC. “It probably wasn’t the best fit for Professionals Grade,” they quoted him as saying.

So here it is, wearing Pontiac badges, the brand’s aggressive twin-element grille and a work-in-progress name of G8 sport truck. Pontiac has put the vehicle’s actual name out to the public, running a contest to name it. That name is due to be announced any time now.


Pontiac says its new Australian-developed pick-up “blurs the line between cars and trucks and is creating an all-new segment in the North American car market.” It sees it as a “dramatically different vehicle (that) blends the sporty handling of a performance coupe with the cargo capabilities of a light truck.”


Based on the all-new Pontiac G8 (read Commodore SS/HSV), the G8 truck, like its Holden counterpart, has a longer wheelbase and a cargo bed suitable for either work or recreation. “Pontiac has never shied away from offering segment-defining vehicles, going back to the original GTO,” says Buick-Pontiac general manager, Jim Bunnell. “There’s simply nothing else like the G8 sport truck on the road today, and we definitely believe that there are customers who will be excited by its distinctive design, performance and cargo capabilities.”


Pontiac marketing director, Craig Bierley says that: “as an important part of the G8 family, we know that ‘sport truck’ doesn’t fully describe the vehicle’s ability to blur the lines between sports car and truck. “Because its fans will surely be as unique as the vehicle itself, we’re giving them a voice in selecting a name that reflects its appeal.” The Pontiac ute has 18-inch alloy wheels, and an exaggerated wedge profile with a coupe-like roofline. The doors, roof and exterior panels aft of the B-pillars are unique from the G8 sedan. One-piece outer body panels give the vehicle a sleek appearance. Wrap-around taillights and fully concealed tailgate hinges add to the sculpted look. A colour-coordinated, soft tonneau cover conceals and protects items in the cargo bed from the weather.


The engine initially will be the 6.0-litre V8 engine used in the G8 GT. It puts out 361 horsepower (270kW) and 522Nm of torque. The combination of a six-speed automatic transmission and Active Fuel Management technology provides both car-like fuel economy and an expected 0-100kph time of less than six seconds. It has a 1878 mm load tray, 1208 litres of cargo space and a durable composite cargo bed liner. It has a payload of more than 488kg and can tow a 1600kg trailer.


The ute’s body structure is reinforced in key areas to support its cargo and towing duties. More than 60 new components were added to strengthen the structure. Compared to the sedan, the 3009mm wheelbase is about 100mm longer and the truck is 150mm longer overall. Front and rear suspensions are independent and the ute has electronic stability control. The sport truck’s front stabiliser bar is 1mm larger than the sedan’s, and the rear suspension has been enhanced to support payloads without adversely affecting handling. Tyres are P245/45R18s. An optional Sports Package includes 19-inch machine-faced aluminum wheels with P245/40R19 tyres.
Twin-piston, front alloy callipers and vented rotors are used on the front brakes, with single-piston, alloy rear callipers with vented rotors.

Standard gear includes air conditioning with electronic dual-zone climate control; cruise control; a trip computer; power windows, locks and exterior mirrors, and remote keyless entry and remote start. There are front airbags, head-curtain side airbags, and side thorax airbags.

Motor Trend is predicting that Pontiac will offer several variants of the sport truck, including a fire-breathing GXP version. It’s likely to have the 6.3-litre LS3 V8. At presstime, Pontiac hadn’t announced pricing but Motor Trend was predicting a starting price around $US29,999. Pontiac has also been coy about how many it’s likely to sell. The current petrol price backlash against V8-engined vehicles in the USA – Ford has stopped production of its 2009 model F-150 pick-up till it shifts the 2008 models – is likely to have a major bearing.


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