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Detroit show: Chevy to stay out of Australia

Holden on: GM North America vice-president Alan Batey says the lion badge will not be replaced by the Chevrolet cross, when local production of Holden vehicles ceases in 2017.

Former Holden chief, now GM senior exec, says axing Holden badge would make no sense

Chevrolet logo14 Jan 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO in DETROIT

IT WOULD be illogical to axe the Holden brand in favour of Chevrolet badging when Australian manufacturing ceases in 2017, says General Motors heavyweight and former Holden chief Alan Batey.

Asked at this week’s North American International Auto show in Detroit to comment on speculation that the global Chevrolet brand would replace Holden, which exists only in the small Australian and New Zealand markets, Mr Batey ruled it out emphatically.

Mr Batey, a Brit who served as managing director of Holden between 2009 and 2010 and was recently promoted from global Chevrolet boss to executive vice-president of GM North America, said cutting adrift a brand with such equity in its native market would make no commercial sense.

“Holden is such a strong brand, I struggle with where that came from,” he told media at this week’s NAIAS.

“No, at the end of the day we’ve seen other brands that have moved out of manufacturing in Australia and their presence has remained strong, so know, I don’t see Holden (going).

“If you were starting out with a clean piece of paper it would be different, but you’re not. You’re starting out with a brand that is Australia’s own. I don’t think it would make real sense to put Bow Ties on the front of Holdens.”

Speculation has been rife that Holden would end as a brand name once its local factories close, with the global Chevrolet moniker serving as replacement. In Holden’s favour is the UK’s stand-alone Vauxhall brand, which re-badges Opels in a similar fashion to Holden rebadging Chevys.

GM executives have also confirmed in Detroit this week that the Commodore nameplate will continue beyond 2017, switching to a fully imported model that is expected to herald a shift to a global front-wheel-drive platform.

Another former Holden chief, Mark Reuss, who is now GM’s head of global product development, had little to say about the Australian operations, other than confirming that all future models developed under Chevrolet and other surviving GM brands would be considered for right-hand-drive engineering.

“Every vehicle we do in the future we will consider right-hand drive for,” he said. “That’s all I’m saying.”

In contrast, Mr Batey discussed with Australian media his personal thoughts on the imminent demise of Holden as a manufacturer from his perspective as a former head of the company.

“Tough,” he said simply. “(I) know everybody, love the brand, had a wonderful time for four years working for Holden.

“And so I’m disappointed and sad, but the brand stands tall, we’re going to keep a great presence in the market, we’ll maintain our design capability down there under Mike Simcoe’s leadership, there’s a lot of talent that we want to leverage.

“Holden will remain a very important brand in our portfolio, but from a personal perspective when you close a chapter like local manufacturing, it’s a tough moment.”

Mr Batey said that despite GM’s decision to kill Holden’s Australian engineering arm as well as its local factories, the Lion brand would retain some semblance of a global footprint courtesy of its design department, which would play a role in cars the world over.

The business case for the Australia-made, VF Commodore-based Chevrolet SS performance sedan remains unchanged, said Mr Batey. The car continues to sell in the US in small numbers that will remain supply-restricted.

When asked if GM could plan to bolster SS sales in the few shorts years the VF Commodore has left, Mr Batey said no.

“Obviously we have CAFE (corporate average fuel emissions) requirements here in the US, so this is going to be a niche for us, we’re talking around 3000 units and no, we’re not going to rapidly grow it but we have excellent demand,” he said.

Following comments from earlier this week from senior GM executive indicting that all future Cadillacs could come in right-hand drive, GoAuto asked Mr Batey if a brand such as Cadillac could - at last - make it to Australia as a performance car replacement for the rear-drive Commodore.

“Cadillac here in the US has a huge performance range, but without RHD at present in the portfolio, it’s not something we’ll see in the imminent future,” he said.

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