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Performax picks up former Holden engineers

Aussie talent: Expert automotive engineers Mary Lorenzo and Oliver Spiess were head-hunted by Performax International to develop right-hand drive Ford F-Series trucks.

Specialist car converter hires local talent as Holden winds down engineering ops

17 Jan 2014

SPECIALIST vehicle converter Performax International recently hired two experienced Australian automotive engineers, Mary Lorenzo and Oliver Spiess, to develop Ford’s Super Duty F-250 and F-350 pick-up truck for right-hand drive.

The announcement was made late last month, just days after Holden revealed that it was closing down its vehicle development and manufacturing operations by the end of 2017, including its engineering division.

Ms Lorenzo and Mr Spiess have both previously held senior engineering roles at Holden, with Ms Lorenzo moving directly from the GM subsidiary while Mr Spiess was most recently working for Ford Australia.

As GoAuto has reported, Holden currently employs about 500 engineers, with most of these to be made redundant over the next three years.

The company might retain a small number on the payroll, but has made it clear that local suspension tuning of its fully imported range from 2017 will be outsourced.

Holden also axed about 45 engineering jobs last September, and the Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia has told us that a number of former Holden engineers had left Australia in recent months to take up positions in Asia, where car-makers were seeking to expand their development operations.

The demise of Holden and Ford’s locally developed vehicles, particularly the rear-drive large performance sedans and utilities, could be a mixed blessing for specialty vehicle operations such as Performax.

While demand for American performance cars and pick-ups is likely to increase, these vehicles might also become increasingly available through official factory outlets.

The forthcoming new-generation Ford Mustang, for example, is being developed in right-hand drive and is confirmed for sale in Australia, while GM executives told GoAuto in Detroit this week that all future models developed under Chevrolet and other surviving GM brands would be considered for right-hand-drive engineering.

Based in in Gympie, Queensland, Performax International recently won approval for full-volume (unlimited) production of Ford’s Super Duty F-Series, which will join other (limited-volume) pick-ups converted at the company including the Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota Tundra and Dodge Ram.

Ford’s all-new F-150 revealed in Detroit this week is also likely to attract demand from Australian consumers, and reaches production in the US later this year.

Performax currently converts around 320 American passenger cars and pick-up trucks each year.

As well as working for vehicle manufacturers in Australia, Ms Lorenzo and Mr Spiess both have international experience with overseas car-makers and component suppliers in regions such as Europe and the US.

Across two stints at Holden, Ms Lorenzo was involved in the interior engineering of the Holden Commodore and Pontiac G8. She also worked as a design engineer on the Holden Cruze and earlier was employed by seat supplier Air International (now Futuris Automotive), with project engineering responsibility for Holden, Ford and Mitsubishi seating.

After many years at Holden, Mr Spiess was working with Ford Australia on safety systems for the Ranger utility before he made the move to Performax.

He undertook similar work on the Chevrolet/Holden Colorado and other projects, working extensively on safety, occupant restraint systems and product development for GM for more than two decades.

He was responsible for vehicle safety systems on GM’s Australian-developed global rear-drive platform known as Zeta, which underpins the Commodore, Chevrolet Camaro and other vehicles.

Performax says Mr Spiess’ experience in ensuring vehicles achieved safety compliance in diverse markets around the world would be valuable in bringing the F-250 and F-350 to market in Australia.

“Mary and I will take our experience from large-scale manufacturing systems and apply them to the Performax International operation,” Mr Spiess.

“We will focus on three areas – compliance, designing the vehicle for right-hand drive and production systems to ensure consistent quality and conformity, including spare parts.”

Ms Lorenzo is developing new parts for the F-250 and F-350, having completed an initial assessment of the project.

“Oliver and I are delighted to be onboard for this exciting project. A relatively small company is a new environment for us, but we’re confident we can bring the benefit of our experience to help produce an outstanding new vehicle for the Australian market,” she said.

Performax International General Manager Glenn Soper said the Super Duty project is aimed to eventually double production volume at the company to around 600 vehicles a year.

“Performax is placed to not only consolidate itself as the industry leader in Australia but also to seek new opportunities internationally,” he said.

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