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Former HSV chief looks to US

American connection: Former HSV managing director and chairman John Crennan and the Holden-engineered Chevrolet Camaro.

John Crennan emerges from ‘retirement’ to take on US consultancy, race team roles

General Motors logo22 Jul 2010


JOHN Crennan, the architect of Australia’s most successful special vehicles company which he ran for more than two decades, has accepted an invitation to act as a consultant to a major automotive group in the United States.

Mr Crennan, a former GM Holden director before becoming founding managing director of Holden Special Vehicles in 1987, will visit the US in mid August for talks on the project, which remains confidential.

Given his depth of experience in special vehicles and extensive connections within GM, speculation is that he will provide advice for a similar performance-vehicle business with links to GM’s North American operations.

Contacted by GoAuto this week, Chevrolet vice-president of sales and service Alan Batey – a former chairman and managing director of GM Holden and therefore well versed in HSV’s operations – declined to comment.

“I am not in a position to comment on what John Crennan is doing or is planning to do,” he said.

Chevrolet and other GM brands such as Cadillac have long built their own high-performance vehicles, including the Holden-developed Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac ‘V’ models, but this set-up has left the door open for independent ‘tuners’ to add value for customers wanting something even more special.

 center imageLeft: John Crennan with 2006 V8 Supercar champion Rick Kelly.

HSV and its owner, Tom Walkinshaw, had ambitions for US expansion more than a decade ago, but those plans fell over when Mr Walkinshaw’s UK businesses struck financial trouble in 2003.

At that time Mr Crennan was involved in discussions in Detroit, establishing a lot of contacts. During the 20th anniversary celebrations of HSV, then GM ‘car czar’ Bob Lutz – with whom Mr Crennan had a close business association – wrote that the HSV/HRT business model was GM best-practice business model globally.

Mr Crennan’s US project is just one of a number of roles he has taken on after completing a record 30-month “non-compete” restraint period excluding him from working in the car industry anywhere in the world after retiring from the HSV board.

He has also rekindled his V8 Supercar involvement by signing on to chair the management team for Kelly Racing, the Jack Daniels-sponsored independent race outfit established by John and Margaret Kelly and driver sons Todd and Rick Kelly.

Mr Crennan worked closely with the Kellys when he was at HSV, which was closely allied with both Kelly Racing – at that time racing under the HSV Dealer Team moniker – and the factory-backed Holden Racing Team.

Mr Crennan personally oversaw the commercial side of both race teams, wooing sponsors and building the HRT and HSV racing ‘brands’ that resulted in multi-million-dollar apparel sales and an effective image ‘halo’ for HSV and Holden.

He says the new role with the Kellys is honourary, but has already signaled his intention to involve himself on the commercial side, meeting with sponsors such as Jack Daniels to help map out a team business plan.

Todd and Rick Kelly both made their start in V8 Supercar racing with the Holden Young Lions team – an off-shoot of HRT founded with the support of Mr Crennan and HSV.

Mr Crennan told GoAuto he would also commence a working relationship with five-time Australian touring car champion Mark Skaife, whose career he helped to guide at HRTMr Crennan said his main interest in business life now was to assist the development and grooming of young people as tomorrow’s leaders in the industry in which he had enjoyed over almost 45 years – and before him his father, who was a Holden man for more than 40 yearsMark Skaife and Mr Crennan both have offices in the same Richmond building in Melbourne, and say they are planning some work in road safety.

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