News - Holden
Holden exits engineering too
Brain drain: Many automotive engineers axed by Holden will have no alternative but to seek work in Asia’s booming car industry.
At least 400 Holden engineers to go as GM slams door on local vehicle development
12 December 2013
GENERAL Motors’ decision to axe most of its Holden engineers by the end of 2017
along with its manufacturing operations spells the death knell for Holden’s
global vehicle engineering role in Australia.
Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said today that although
its engineering centre and proving ground will close, the company will look to
use outside firms to tweak the suspension of its fully imported cars for
“When we look at tuning vehicles to the road conditions, that can also be done
in other engineering centres,” he told ABC radio.
“So to the extent that we retain that engineering centre (now) and wind it down
over the next three to four years, we will also retain some amount of local
tuning for the tastes of Australian consumers and to make sure that, no matter
what, we continue to give Australian consumers cars that are ‘Holdens’.”
Of the engineers to remain, most are likely to be assigned to supporting the
Melbourne-based design studio that will continue working on global projects.
GM has not spelled out exactly how many engineers will be made redundant,
saying only it will “significantly reduce” Holden’s engineering operations.
However, GoAuto understands that between the manufacturing engineers at the
Elizabeth plant in South Australia and the Port Melbourne engine plant – both
of which are closing – and the product development engineering team in
Victoria, Holden currently has about 500 engineers.
That is likely to be cut by at least 400, leaving between 50 and 100 engineers
on the payroll.
Society of Automotive Engineers Australia executive director Natalie Roberts –
herself a former engine calibration engineer for Holden – told GoAuto that many
of these engineers would struggle to find suitable employment in Australia.
She said she already knew of several engineers who had left Australia to take
up positions in Asia where car-makers were seeking to expand their car
“We keep hearing about this transition to new industries in Australia, but
where are they, what are they?” she said.
Ms Roberts said successive government had chopped and changed policy in
Australia, leading to uncertainty among car-makers about the long-term
viability of engineering products here.
“A new car platform takes 14 years, from its design and engineering and a
10-year model life, so manufacturers need policy certainty,” she said.
Ms Roberts said the fallout from the Holden decision would also cost
engineering jobs at automotive suppliers that develop products for local
The union representing engineers, Professional Engineers Australia (PEA), said
Holden’s decision to shut its manufacturing and engineering operations would
cost some of “the best jobs in Australia”.
PEA CEO Chris Walton said it was critical to Australia’s future to maintain a
robust, diverse economy for the long term, “yet we now face the end of
value-added manufacturing in Australia”.
He said urgent action was needed to ensure that there was not a brain drain of
highly skilled engineers from Australia.
“The automotive sector – at the apex of the manufacturing sector – drives
innovation, research and development and high-skill jobs,” he said.
“Without those jobs, highly skilled engineers and technicians will have no
choice but to go overseas."
Holden’s decision to axe its engineering operation will leave Ford Australia as
the only Australian manufacturer with the capability for a ground-up
development of new global vehicle architectures.
Ford Australia has carved out a significant global role in both design and
engineering at its Victorian operations for products such as the Ranger ute and
upcoming Everest SUV, with small cars for China also on the go.
But even this capability is under pressure, with Ford Australia president Bob
Graziano going before the Productivity Commission to call for continued
government assistance for such operations.
Toyota Australia has a small engineering and design capability in Melbourne,
working on projects such as chassis development for the next-generation HiLux
and design for the new HiLux-based Toyota Fortuna SUV.
Until recently, Holden was the “home room” for the company’s global Zeta
rear-drive vehicle architecture that underpins the Commodore, Caprice and their
United States export offshoots, the Chevrolet SS and Caprice PPV police car, as
well as the Canadian-built Camaro.
The Zeta program has been axed in Australia, and the decision to cut the
engineering capability – announced in yesterday’s media release from Detroit –
signals an end to Australian responsibility for global platforms.
The decision to shut the Lang Lang proving ground will mean the closure of the
most advanced vehicle development facility in Australia.
The proving ground not only has a maze of different sorts of roads for vehicle
chassis testing and durability trials but also international-quality testing
labs for things such as crash safety, emissions, noise abatement, hot and cold
extreme testing and engine calibration.
To build that facility from the ground up would cost millions.