Holden Design

Life Af­ter Man­u­fac­tur­ing Death

NZ Autocar - - Contents - – Peter Louis­son

Holden used to be known as the Com­modore com­pany but just be­cause lo­cal man­u­fac­ture of Com­modore (and Cruze) is end­ing doesn’t mean that Holden is shut­ting up shop. Nor does it mean the end of Com­modore. What it ac­tu­ally means is that Holden will be­come the Com­modore, Colorado, Cap­tiva and Cas­cada com­pany, not to men­tion the pur­veyor of a whole swag of new prod­uct, in­clud­ing new As­tra hatch, re­cently crowned Euro­pean Car of the Year.

Holden will fol­low in the foot­steps of Mit­subishi, Ford, Nis­san and Toy­ota, chang­ing from a man­u­fac­turer to be­come a na­tional sales or­gan­i­sa­tion. Deal­er­ships will in­stead be stocked with Bri­tish, Euro­pean, Korean, Thai and Amer­i­can GM prod­ucts.

While lo­cal man­u­fac­ture is end­ing next year, with the El­iz­a­beth plant clos­ing and the 37ha Fish­er­man’s Bend site up for sale, the ex­per­tise of the 300-strong Design and En­gi­neer­ing di­vi­sions will con­tinue, work­ing on up­com­ing GM global prod­uct. Along with the main GM Detroit stu­dio, the GM Aus­tralia Design group has be­come ex­pert at cre­at­ing fully fledged con­cept cars, with GM di­vi­sions glob­ally knock­ing at it door. The fa­cil­ity is the most ma­ture design cen­tre in the Asia Pacific re­gion, with over 50 years of ex­pe­ri­ence. “We build con­cept cars as well as any­one” said GM Aus­tralia’s Design chief, Richard Fer­lazzo. As an ex­am­ple, at the re­cent Geneva Mo­tor Show, Opel pre­sented its GT Con­cept car, de­signed in Europe but built in Aus­tralia. Pow­ered by a three-cylin­der tur­bocharged en­gine sited aft of the front axle line, the lit­tle rear-drive sport­ster con­cept was a func­tion­ing driv­able ve­hi­cle with a semi-func­tional in­te­rior.

Prior to that the design team had de­signed and built two con­cepts that were shown at the 2015 Detroit show, the Bolt EV, and the gor­geous Buick Avenir con­cept which scooped the Best Design Con­cept car at the show. The team also took out the prize for the most in­no­va­tive use of colour, graph­ics and ma­te­ri­als.

The design stu­dio in Mel­bourne is one of nine such GM fa­cil­i­ties glob­ally, and is the third big­gest af­ter the Detroit and Rus­selsheim stu­dios, em­ploy­ing around 140 ex­perts. Es­tab­lished in 1964, only 16 years af­ter the first Holden was launched, ini­tial design work was done en­tirely by hand, but since 2001 the Mel­bourne fa­cil­ity has had a vir­tual re­al­ity stu­dio and is about to pur­chase 3D ren­der­ing soft­ware so de­sign­ers can “walk around” in­side the cars they de­velop, in a vir­tual world. Roughly 20 de­sign­ers are em­ployed for this work, half do­ing ex­te­rior and the other half in­te­rior work. The over­all design team has myr­iad func­tions, in­clud­ing clay and dig­i­tal mod­el­ling, fab­ri­ca­tion, dig­i­tal imag­ing, and colour, trim and qual­ity ap­pear­ance.

While be­ing scaled back, the En­gi­neer­ing di­vi­sion at Fish­er­man’s Bend and Lang Lang Prov­ing Ground also have a global role to play into the fu­ture. The prov­ing ground has just been given the go-ahead for a $15mil­lion re­fur­bish­ment. Much of that will go into resur­fac­ing the 4.7km high­speed oval track. For some time the 877ha fa­cil­ity, which was opened in 1957, has been re­spon­si­ble for fine-tun­ing sus­pen­sion sys­tems of the over­seas prod­ucts that are en­ter­ing the Aus­tralasian mar­kets.

Chair­man and MD of GM Holden, Mark Bern­hard, out­lined the com­pany’s short- and medium-term pri­or­i­ties. The new chief, a GM em­ployee of 30 years, took over mid­way through 2015.

Holden has had a dif­fi­cult past few years, Bern­hard ad­mit­ted, but has plans to re­place the prod­ucts it has been mak­ing lo­cally, Com­modore and Cruze, with a new Com­modore and Euro­pean As­tra. He re­mained tight-lipped about the former, as was Holden NZ MD, Kris­tian Aquilina, say­ing only that it will be “sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent” from the out­go­ing ve­hi­cle but will “seam­lessly” con­tinue the Com­modore brand name. Bern­hard sees prod­uct as be­ing key to Holden’s fu­ture pros­per­ity. “It has al­ways been im­por­tant to have the right prod­uct in the right sec­tor” and the com­pany will wit­ness a ma­jor trans­for­ma­tion in the next four years, with 24 new mod­els due be­tween now and 2020. Nat­u­rally, be­cause of the con­tin­u­ing strength of the sec­tor, some of these will be SUVs, be­gin­ning with Cap­tiva facelift and a larger of­fer­ing there­after. New Cap­tiva has a fresh­ened fas­cia, with new lights, grille and the like, and a much im­proved in­te­rior. The year kicks off with city car Spark, how­ever, due soon, fol­lowed by a ma­jor Colorado facelift in Q3, and then the in­tro­duc­tion of the award-tot­ing As­tra hatch range. About one-third of the new ve­hi­cles will be sourced from Europe, and all new­com­ers will fea­ture Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto as part of the up­graded MyLink sys­tem. In 2017 Com­modore pro­duc­tion ends lo­cally, its re­place­ment con­firmed but de­tails scant. NZ po­lice of­fi­cials ev­i­dently know what’s com­ing be­cause of the for­ward ten­der­ing process for govern­ment ve­hi­cles.

On the ex­cite­ment front, ex­pect a new sportscar at some point to com­pete with Mus­tang, pow­ered prob­a­bly by a twin­turbo V6, and look­ing like the Buick Avista con­cept shown at the Detroit show. On the elec­tric front, Volt’s not re­turn­ing, but the smaller Bolt EV has not yet been ruled out.

Bern­hard em­pha­sised that it’s not just about prod­uct, and in­sisted that “cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence and sat­is­fac­tion will be crit­i­cal” in help­ing Holden tran­si­tion to a purely sales role. Deal­er­ships will un­dergo an over­haul, with a new look in­side and out, and free ser­vic­ing of all new Hold­ens un­til 2020 has al­ready been an­nounced. Pro­fes­sional Care is be­ing set up which is to in­clude life­time cut-price ser­vic­ing, seen as be­ing crit­i­cal for cus­tomer re­ten­tion.

So while it may be the end of an era next year for lo­cal man­u­fac­ture, Holden sees its ex­pand­ing port­fo­lio of glob­ally sourced prod­ucts, in­clud­ing an all-new Com­modore, as the gate­way to a more pros­per­ous and brighter fu­ture.

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