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Rising Fuel Prices Could Bring Holden Ute to U.S. – Should It Replace Chevy's Colorado?

If you haven't blinked in the past three years, you might have remembered the Pontiac G8 ST concept, a handsome quasi-pickup that hearkened back to the Chevrolet El Camino car-based pickup. Unfortunately, the idea was canned (as was Pontiac itself) before any examples could find their way into U.S. showrooms. But all hope may not be lost, if quotes from Mark Reuss, GM's North American president,  in a report out of Australia's Sydney Morning Herald's "Drive" section, are any indication.

''When you look at fuel prices today, I think there's going to be a segmentation of that bandwidth,'' Reuss said, in reference to the spectrum of truck owners and buyers in the North American market. ''I've lived in Australia and I've seen where fuel prices are $5 a gallon [the US is currently struggling with fuel prices pushing $4 a gallon], and lots of tradesmen will use a ute with a tray on the back to do lots of different things, and they don't need the bandwidth of a big pick-up truck,'' he said.

Looking to fully utilize the production capacity of its Port Elizabeth assembly plant, Holden is hoping that a revival of rear-wheel-drive models in the GM global portfolio, and specifically, the U.S. market, will bode well for the plant's future. The Pontiac G8 sedan was built at Port Elizabeth prior to the elimination of the Pontiac brand with GM's 2009 bankruptcy. The discontinuation of Pontiac G8 production was a significant blow to the plant, which was exporting as much as half its output to the U.S. in the form of the G8. Port Elizabeth is now the source for the new Caprice police vehicle that Chevrolet is marketing to police departments around the country.

Even if approved, it's unlikely the new Ute will come to the U.S. any earlier than the 2014 model year, when the next-generation Commodore is due to be released. If GM ever does mount a large-scale rear-wheel-drive comeback, it's likely that some of the models will come out of the Oshawa assembly plant in Canada, where the current Camaro is produced. However, with the so-called "Chicken Tax" still on the books, GM may have to also build the ute at Oshawa, or find some other creative exploitation of the law's loopholes, much like Ford has done with its Turkish-built Transit Connect compact commercial van.

This also brings up the uncertain future of the Chevrolet Colorado/ GMC Canyon twins. Although updated with a V-8 engine option and some trim changes since its introduction in 2005, sales have fallen off precipitously, and has not fared well against newer competition from Toyota, Nissan, and others. Although much more car-like than the Canyon/Colorado, some believe a car-based pickup like the Holden Ute may fill a unique market niche with a product not currently offered by any other manufacturer, as well as play into the hands of nostalgic enthusiasts yearning for the return of the El Camino. Reuss himself even suggests rising gas prices could fragment the pickup market -- which currently is split between full-size and so-called compact trucks -- even further.

What's your vote? Should Chevy drop the Colorado and start selling a new El Camino? Is there room for both models to find a sustainable home here in North America? Lend your voice to the discussion by sending your comments to us by way of the field below.