As Australia’s domestic auto makers struggle to sell their bread-and-butter large rear-wheel-drive cars this year, General Motors Corp. helped boost the fortunes of its GM Holden Ltd. subsidiary by announcing plans to utilize the group’s RWD expertise globally.

GM said in August it would build a production version of its Chevrolet Camaro concept for the U.S. based on its Global Rear Wheel Drive (formerly Zeta) Architecture, developed by GM Holden.

GM’s Pontiac brand in the U.S. also may get a Zeta-based model, the Pontiac G8, and perhaps a GTO, as well as future generations of the Chevy Impala and Monte Carlo and the replacement for the Buick Park Avenue.

GM will use the platform to underpin vehicles in Europe and South Korea, as well, although in smaller volume models. The news helped soften the blow of declining retail sales at home for GM Holden, with vehicle deliveries down 18.2% through September, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

Record high prices at the pump have sent consumers scrambling for small, fuel-efficient cars, giving Toyota Motor Corp. Australia Ltd. the edge over other members of the country’s Big Four, which also includes Ford Motor Co. of Australia and Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd.

The major producers were counting on the launch of their restyled new large sedans this year to boost sales but instead saw demand in the sector slide 21.3% in the first nine months, while small car deliveries rose 20.1%.

Mitsubishi most notably has failed to revive the segment with its new 380 model, leading to reports parent Mitsubishi Motors Corp. may shutter its Adelaide plant.

The new Holden Commodore has shown promise out the chute, with first full-month sales in September climbing 8.5% vs. like-2005. GM Holden also is benefiting from the import of small cars from GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. in South Korea.

Meanwhile, Ford plans to cut production at its Melbourne plant 20% in November, blaming falling profits resulting from the market shift to small cars. The auto maker also is considering other cost-cutting options, including worker layoffs.

Sales of the Ford Falcon large car and Territory cross/utility vehicle trailed prior-year by 19% and 18%, respectively, through September.

To counter GM’s cheaper South Korean models, Ford is emphasizing the European influence of its BF Falcon, which has been tuned to European standards and utilizes a ZF Friedrichshafen AG 6-speed automatic transmission.

The auto maker also will increase production of its liquiefied-petroleum-fueled vehicles, from 90 units to 120 per day, starting in January. Demand has grown as a result of federal government grants for buyers of LPG cars or for owners who retrofit LPG systems to their cars.

Ford sold 826 Falcons and 528 SUVs fueled by LPG in August. “Very clearly, it is becoming a strength for us," Mark Winslow, Ford Australia vice-president of sales and marketing, says.

– with Alan Harman

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com