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$8.7m boost for Holden’s Lang Lang

Testing testing: A Holden engineer tests the exhaust emissions of a Cadillac ATS at sub-zero temperatures at Lang Lang.

Holden emissions labs get a makeover as GM powertrain work floods in

Holden logo24 Oct 2016

By RON HAMMERTON

GENERAL Motors is injecting $8.7 million into Holden’s vehicle emissions test labs at its 60-year-old Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria in a reversal of fortune for GM’s embattled Australian vehicle development unit.

While many other Holden engineers such as body development specialists are still getting their marching orders as GM scales down its Australian engineering and manufacturing operations, the powertrain calibration unit – now part of GM Global Propulsion Systems (GPS) – is advertising for 11 more engineers to take its staff tally up to 106, which is about the same as it was at its peak when Holden was developing the all-Australian VE Commodore and related American Chevrolet Camaro about a decade ago.

Most of the money is being spent on new hi-tech emissions test cells capable of testing to the highest European emissions standards as part of Holden’s powertrain calibration engineering service to GM affiliates such as Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Opel and Buick.

The proving ground roads and test facilities are currently bristling with Cadillac luxury cars and Chevrolet and GMC pick-ups, all undergoing optimisation work on next-generation petrol powertrains.

These include Cadillac’s potent XTS-V Sport and CTS-V Sport, as well as the American versions of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

All up, the current test fleet totals 104 vehicles, with some being put through their paces on test roads, while others are attached to exhaust assessment equipment in dynamometer test cells that do up to 7000 tests a year.

GPS Holden Calibration Group manager David Eliott said his Australian engineers had been responsible for powertrain optimisation in GM models that would account for about five per cent of GM’s 11 million global sales this year.

He listed 18 models currently on sale around the world that had passed though Lang Lang in the development stages.

Mr Eliott said the Australian GPS unit was being offered more work than it could handle.

“We are struggling to get engineers,” he said. “Everyone is hiring.” In a nutshell, powertrain calibration engineers optimise vehicle settings for a range of vehicle functions such as power delivery, emissions and fuel economy, often having to juggle software settings in up to 34 control modules (computers) across the vehicle, not to mention up to 54 different petrol brews from around the world.

While the Holden team can test diesel, LPG and ethanol engines, it specialises in petrol units, especially GM’s 1.4-litre turbo “family four” that is common in small Opels, Chevrolets, Buicks and Holdens.

As GoAuto has already reported, the massive 4.7 kilometre high-speed banked test track at Lang Lang will also be resealed after GM’s change of heart on the future of the 877 hectare facility that it now sees as a necessary, albeit small, cog in its vehicle development machine.

The track is badly deteriorated, and despite patching, it is well below its best.

Three years ago, GM announced that it would close the proving ground as it wound up its ground-up vehicle development capability in Australia, along with its manufacturing operations in late-2017.

However, a few months later, it had a change of heart and announced it would maintain part of its engineering operation at Lang Lang, although 50 staff there would be made redundant.

Some chassis engineers working on local chassis tuning for imported products are also still engaged, along with a smaller group of engineers in support of Holden’s design studio, GM Design Australia, next to Holden’s Port Melbourne head office.

All up, Holden expects to end up with a team of more than 300 designers and engineers, which is better than originally expected, but well down on the halcyon days of Holden vehicle development when the engineering squad alone boasted about 900 people.

It is also well short of the 1500 employed across town at Ford’s Asia Pacific Vehicle Development centres.

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