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Top NASCAR team owner eyes ‘Chev special vehicles’

American dreams: The Holden Commodore-based Chevrolet SS will hit the NASCAR race track in 2013.

Former HSV boss confirms US briefing for leading NASCAR racer and car dealer

22 May 2012

ONE of America’s biggest car dealers and most successful NASCAR team owners, Rick Hendrick, has emerged as a central figure in the future of the Holden-built Chevrolet SS, both on the race track and in the showroom.

Mr Hendrick, whose 79 dealerships in 12 American states sold almost as many cars as Holden’s entire dealer network for a $4.9 billion turnover in 2011, appears to be a prime candidate for a Chevrolet special vehicles operation using the Commodore-based, rear-drive sports sedan when it goes on sale in North America in the second half of next year.

Founding managing director of Holden Special Vehicles John Crennan has confirmed to GoAuto that Mr Hendrick – whose Hendrick Motorsports team is set to race the Chevrolet SS in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup next year – was one of two major dealers/race team owners he visited last year to brief them on the HSV business model ahead of the rollout of the SS.

He also made a presentation on the successful operations of HSV to mega-dealer, trucking magnate and race team owner Roger Penske at his Detroit base.

Mr Penske is the founder and major shareholder in the world’s second-biggest dealer group, Penske Automotive Group, with a whopping 327 motor vehicle retail franchises in four countries, and runs one of the most successful motor racing operations in the US.

However, Mr Penske’s NASCAR team recently announced it will race Ford’s Fusion next year – a move that might not sit as comfortably with General Motor’s North American management, headed by former Holden managing directors Mark Reuss and Alan Batey.

As GoAuto reported in July last year, Mr Crennan’s presentations were made in his capacity as an independent consultant to the motor industry after completing his 30-month “no compete” restraint period after retiring from the board of HSV.

 center imageFrom top: NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick former HSV managing director John Crennan HSV GTS.

This week, he said he did not know if Mr Hendrick or Mr Penske were proceeding with a special vehicles operation for the new Chevrolet SS, as he was now involved with Nissan in his management role for the Kelly Racing V8 Supercar team, and no longer could get involved with GM projects.

Mr Crennan was pivotal to the recent signing of Nissan as V8 Supercar’s third brand, with race development of the all-new Altima mid-sized sedan now underway at Kelly Racing for a race debut in season 2013.

GoAuto understands Mr Crennan’s presentations to Mr Hendrick and Mr Penske were made with the full knowledge of Chevrolet management, including Mr Batey, who was then vice-president of Chevrolet sales and marketing but was last week promoted to the newly created position of GM vice-president of sales and marketing.

It is unclear if any ‘Chevrolet Special Vehicles’ or ‘Chevrolet Performance’ business in the US would involve Holden Special Vehicles.

Contacted by GoAuto this week, HSV managing director Phil Harding declined to comment, saying only that it was HSV policy not to talk about any future programs.

Mr Hendrick’s NASCAR team has been closely monitoring the development of the race version of the Chevrolet SS that will make its track debut at the Daytona 500 in the last week of February next year.

He said last week that NASCAR was getting close to locking in a race car design that resembles the production car, unlike previous NASCARs.

“I think it is going to be great for the fans,” said Mr Hendrick. “We are going to have a production car that looks just like it.”

Mr Hendrick has 10 Chevrolet dealerships among his 79 retail sites in the US, as well as three Cadillac and one Buick showroom.

His NASCAR team – supporting leading drivers Dale Earnhardt junior, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne – is run from a gigantic 60-hectare “campus” near Charlotte, North Carolina.

Winner of 10 owners’ championships in NASCAR’s main game, the Sprint Cup Series, the team currently runs Chevrolet Impalas.

GM has decided to retire the Impala as its NASCAR weapon from 2013, substituting the rear-drive, harder edged Chevrolet SS that will be based on the new-generation Holden VF Commodore.

Unlike Mr Penske’s publicly listed company, Mr Hendrick owns and runs Hendrick Automotive Group, America’s second-biggest privately owned dealer network that last year sold 120,000 vehicles across 14 brands in 12 states.

By comparison, Holden dealers sold 126,000 vehicles across Australia in 2011.

If Mr Hendrick does decide to establish a special vehicles operation based on the Chevrolet SS, it would be well-placed to mimic HSV, which has a close association with Australian V8 Supercar racing through the Holden Racing Team.

HSV was founded by British race driver and businessman Tom Walkinshaw to take over Holden’s factory-backed special vehicles business after the demise of Peter Brock’s HDT in the late 1980s.

Mr Walkinshaw installed former Holden national marketing manager Mr Crennan as managing director from day one – a position he held for 18 years before stepping back to an executive chairman’s role for two years, and then ‘retirement’.

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