The automotive market has matured, and we need to mature with it.
When taken to task, carmakers often turn blue in the face defending their products, a reaction that could be familiar to parents who’ve ever defended their kids when their kindergarten teachers say they ‘could do better.’ Very recently, American automotive cornerstone Ford has been under fire for giving its latest performance ute, the Ranger Raptor, a “pathetic” 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel mill.
This is a performance ute right, so 157kW of power, 500Nm of twist, and four-cylinders running on diesel isn’t the sort of thing that would traditionally get your hair standing on end. Naturally, quite a few Australians were left wondering where the missing cylinders are (and if they’re being offered individually as cost options). And while we’re rarely to be found defending carmakers who have clearly cocked up, Ford’s defence of the Ranger Raptor speaks volume about how we ought to be looking at cars.
“Honestly, right from the start of the project, we never considered any other powertrain solution for the Ranger Raptor: There was only ever the bi-turbo 10-speed, and the bi-turbo 10-speed, and that’s it. We simply wanted the best diesel available that we could get our hands on. The Raptor is about suspension, it’s about the chassis, and it’s about breaking the bank on the entire architecture and platform that this vehicle is built on. Quite literally, those four shock absorbers from Fox Racing Shox cost as much as a small engine, and that’s not an exaggeration either. That’s just how much money we have put into this vehicle. And that’s what the Raptor is all about.” — Jamal Hameedi, Chief Engineer (Global Performance Vehicles), Ford Motor Company
Take a second to look at his title. “Global Performance Vehicles.” The Ranger Raptor was very clearly designed from the outset to be a global contender, one capable of tackling the various legislative intricacies and market demands of a multitude of countries across our blue-and-green marble. While diesels have been given a bad rap lately, they remain one of the most versatile power plants currently available, offering immense torque, great fuel consumption, and very long ranges. Perfect for a high-performance off-roader that aims to go everywhere, anytime, and at great speed. Australia might very well be the only market outside of North America that would be receptive to an enormous naturally-aspirated eight-cylinder petrol lump up front; The fact that the Raptor was launched in Thailand, where there are capacity-based tax brackets to bear in mind also says a lot about the engine choice.
What the Ranger Raptor is, is a complex performance product that focuses on a more complete experience rather than things that let you win ‘Top Trumps.’ It’s the same way that anyone worth their salt will tell you that while the Ford Mustang V8 is a great experience (this writer included), a Porsche 718 Cayman offers a better-balanced, all-round package, with power and finesse in equal measure to ensure that you don’t need to feel the rumble from the mill all the time to get a smile across your face. The core value of the Raptor comes in its complex suspension engineering and overall ability to make you giggle behind the wheel, and the use of the diesel mill backs that focus. Winning ‘Top Trumps’ is for children; Cars like the Ranger Raptor are for adults.
Broadly, the same issue is being levelled at the Commodore. For the first time, the Commodore is not only front-wheel drive, but it’s also no longer available with eight cylinders formed in a V, designed to burn fuel in a way that really ought to be criminal in 2018 for what is a family saloon at its core. The Commodore has grown up, and though the Holden badge will only be offered in our market, the car itself was designed with global markets in mind, and the product reflects that.
“The nameplate synonymous with our heartland is ‘Commodore.’ Few cars stir the emotion like the Commodore does. Any car company around the world would love that passion. We want to keep our loyal customers, and we also want to attract more to our brand. There are plenty of strong opinions out there on how this car will perform. Will our heartland customers buy the next-generation Commodore? I challenge any of them to drive the car, and then have an opinion. Space, performance, technology and sophistication. Exceptional driving performance, for Australian drivers and Australian conditions, honed by a globally talented team. Our heartland customers are going to be key to the future success of the brand, these are the people that have driven our cars for a lifetime and they wear it as a badge of honour.” — Mark Bernhard, Managing Director & General Manager, GM Holden Ltd.
The core of the Commodore has always been to mobilise Australian families and give them a reliable, respectable family car with enough long-range ability, but enough flexibility that it works in town too. And above all else, it shouldn’t break the bank. For a long time, Holden has been able to offer that package without surpassing a psychological price barrier that deems it ‘just too much,’ but it’s just not feasible anymore.
And we don’t know about you, but it’s clear to us that the new Commodore focuses on its core strengths with great resolution. Further, Holden themselves said that only 30% of last-generation Commodore buyers bought the performance models. So you can’t reasonably expect them to pander to the minority, really.
The motoring landscape has become far more complex in recent years, with far more demanding consumers and even more demanding legislation, giving automakers a right headache with the formulation of every new product. But ultimately, we need to be pragmatic as buyers and stop chastising carmakers for making cars that aren’t exactly like the one they got rid of a decade ago. If you want a V8 burble in your family saloon, the TradingPost can show you a selection of yesterday’s Commodores with the right number of cylinders for you. And as for ute nuts, you do realise that Volkswagen sells the V6 Amarok, right?