In early 2000s Australia, with SUV sales booming and crossovers emerging as a significant growth segment, Ford and Holden each developed their own crossover SUVs to storm the market and grab market share. Ford’s offering, the 2004 Territory, remains a strong seller to this day and arguably helped keep their Broadmeadows factory’s lights on for a few years longer. Holden’s offering, the 2003 Adventra, was a flop and was quietly dropped in 2007. What went wrong?
Let’s look first at what Ford Australia did right. They needed the Territory to work. After the poor reception received by the controversial 1998 AU Falcon, Ford had developed an extensively overhauled model for 2002 known as the BA Falcon. But, despite greater interior and engine refinement and more conservative styling, the Falcon was still losing the sales race to an inferior Commodore.
With the Falcon wagon selling predominantly to fleets, they needed something to appeal to private buyers, specifically families. A lot of Aussie families were doing the school run in cumbersome, oversized Mitsubishi Pajeros and Toyota Landcruisers. The Territory was designed to look as bulky and aggressive as those more agricultural SUVs, but offer less off-road ability and commensurately greater on-road refinement.
It succeeded fantastically: the Territory has been a podium finisher in mid-size SUV sales for over a decade now, won Wheels Car of the Year for 2004, and earned consistent praise for riding and handling as well as more expensive SUVs from luxury brands. Turbocharged models were offered, but the sole engine offering for several years was a venerable 4.0 inline six, before a Land Rover-sourced 2.7 V6 diesel was launched and took the lion’s share of sales.
Looking at how and why the Territory succeeded allows us to see clearly how the Adventra failed. It all starts with something as superficial as looks: the Territory looked like an SUV, the Adventra looked like a jacked-up wagon. While the Adventra does look purposeful, with cladding and a 7.87 inch ride height (3 inches higher than the standard Commodore wagon), consumers were buying thousands of Landcruiser Prados and other truck-like SUVs and the Adventra didn’t look anything like them. The Territory did.
Although the Adventra looked like a wagon with an offroad “appearance package”, underneath there were some meaningful off-road improvements like front and rear “bash plates”, a heavy-duty engine cradle, as well as extra front strut bracing. The brakes and cooling system were also toughened up. Out back, the Adventra also received a unique split tailgate.
But buyers’ enthusiasm was tempered by the Adventra’s engine offerings. It was launched during the run of the VY Commodore, the last Commodore series to carry the old Buick 3.8 V6. This engine was scheduled to be replaced by the Alloytec 3.6 V6 (related to the High Feature V6 used in numerous US products) in time for the VZ revision of 2004. Accordingly, Holden decided to launch the Adventra with just one engine offering: the 5.7 Generation III LS1 V8 engine.
While the American 5.7 V8 was plenty powerful – 315hp and 346 ft-lbs – it guzzled fuel. Australians have always paid more at the pump than North Americans, so although we have always had a strong affinity for V8 performance cars, more utilitarian vehicles like family SUVs are far less likely to boast V8s. The Territory never bothered to offer one. At the time, V8s accounted for around 10% of Commodore sales and the Adventra’s LS1 was actually 13 horsepower down on the V8 fitted to Commodores due to a different exhaust system.
The Adventra had been launched under the reign of Chairman and Managing Director Peter Hanenberger, an enthusiast who reintroduced the concept of “handling” to Holdens in the 1970s. During his tenure in the early 2000s, the range of Australian-built range of Holdens rapidly proliferated. In addition to the usual Commodore sedan, ute and wagon and long-wheelbase Statesman/Caprice luxury sedans, the Monaro coupe returned after an absence of more than two decades. Then, a four-door Commodore ute arrived, known as the Crewman.
The all-wheel-drive Holdens were the next extension of the range, and the all-weather hardware would make its way underneath the Adventra, Crewman and a Monaro fettled by Holden Special Vehicles (HSV), known as Coupé4. You can add to that menagerie HSV versions of the Adventra (HSV Avalanche) and Crewman (Avalanche XUV). They featured a rear-biased, full-time AWD system known as “Cross-Trac”, with no low-range set of gears; the torque split was 62% rear, 38% front. The AWD Holdens were not quite the first mass-produced Australian vehicles with all-wheel-drive: the 2002 Mitsubishi Magna/Verada (Diamante) just beat them to market.
The Adventra and the Crewman Cross8 cost Holden $AUD125 million to develop, a fraction of Ford’s $500 million Territory budget. But the GM V platform was already several years old at this point, and the Zeta platform was to arrive in 2006. So, even if the Adventra had been successful, it would have been due for replacement after a short time. The AWD Holdens were short-lived, and the Zeta/VE cars would be RWD-only.
Holden’s first crossover, thirsty V8 aside, was quite a practical option for families. It had some light off-road ability, had an available third row of forward-facing seats, and featured various clever features like the split tailgate, fold-flat rear seats, roof racks and various storage nooks and crannies.
Dynamically, it offered a plusher ride and better suspension travel than a standard Commodore wagon, but the added heft was felt: the Adventra weighed 4177lbs, a sizeable 440lbs more than its RWD wagon companion, and had a larger turning circle. An Adventra driver enjoyed more of a command driving position than in a Commodore, plus more nimble dynamics than most SUVs and crossovers.
The range started with the CX8, which corresponded with the Holden Berlina. There was a six-disc CD player, rear park assist, cruise control, leather-wrapped wheel and shifter and electronic brake force distribution (EBD). The LX8 added stainless steel sill plates, fog lamps, power sports seats, premium audio, dual-zone climate control and a level-ride suspension with superlift shock absorbers.
There may have been a lot of standard kit, but people weren’t exactly snapping up this thirsty new wagon. Holden had projected sales of 420 a month, but after six months the highest figure it could manage was 261. In contrast, the Territory clocked more than a thousand sales in its first, truncated month on sale. Even Toyota was selling almost three times as many of its mid-size crossover, the Kluger (Highlander).
Holden reacted by slashing prices by $4k and even reimbursing Adventra buyers who had paid the old price, before finally adding a V6 option for the 2005 VZ revision. This new series also featured a more aggressive front fascia and hood. The belated V6 was the new Alloytec 3.6, with 250hp and 250 ft-lbs. The transmission was a new five-speed 5L40-E automatic with paddle shifters, while the V8 retained the older, less reliable 4L60 four-speed automatic (even though the Crewman Cross8 received a heavy-duty 4L65 auto). The V6 may have struggled more with the Adventra’s heft, but it was more economical. It also gained Hill Descent Control, which the lone remaining V8 trim missed out on. After 2006, the V6 was your only option: Holden didn’t engineer the Adventra to take the Gen IV L76 6.0 V8 introduced late in the VZ Commodore’s run.
The V6 certainly lowered the cost of entry for the Adventra range. While the initial V8-only series opened at $52,990, the new base model – SX6 – listed for a whopping $12k less while offering only slightly less feature content. The Adventra now looked a roaring good value against the conventional Commodore wagon, and undercut the base AWD Territory by $2k, but it didn’t help sales. The Adventra continued to sell around 200 units a month, meaning it was often being outsold 10-to-1 by the Territory. Even the Commodore wagon, one of the last holdouts in a dying segment, had sold a considerable 18,273 units in 2003.
Holden had botched the launch of its Territory rival, and overall their new crossover seemed half-baked: they spent less money than Ford and it showed. Like Ford, they splashed on a slick television advertising campaign, but the Territory’s was more memorable. The Adventra was plainer in appearance and less practical. Even the all-wheel-drive technology was older stuff than what was in the Territory, and although the Ford was around 400lbs heavier, its smooth inline six had 30 more pound-feet of torque. Ford also foresaw that a lot of buyers simply didn’t care about off-road ability, and offered a rear-wheel-drive Territory.
Holden’s new Zeta-based VE Commodore launched in 2006, leaving the carryover wagon and ute variants to straggle alongside until their replacements arrived. But a replacement never arrived for the Adventra: it had flopped, and General Motors couldn’t justify investing in an all-wheel-drive Zeta-based replacement. As Holden was doing with its small and medium car lineup, they turned to South Korea for a replacement. The South Korean Captiva launched in 2006 and, despite having had more nips and tucks than Melanie Griffith, it continues to sell in great volumes. Like the Adventra, it had car-like road manners but it didn’t look like a car. In the mid-size family crossover market, you have to have something that looks like it can tackle the great Australian Outback… Not look like a a great Australian Subaru Outback!