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GM has ‘a future’ in Australia with specialty cars

HSV in prime position to take on GM speciality vehicles operation, including Corvette

18 Feb 2020

GENERAL Motors (GM) plans to continue to maintain a niche presence in Australia and New Zealand with speciality vehicles such as the Chevrolet Corvette – and Holden’s long-time performance vehicle partner and now remanufacturing expert, Holden Special Vehicles, looks set to lead the program.


In announcing the market withdrawal of Holden this week, GM International Operations senior vice-president Julian Blissett said the US auto giant was in negotiations with its local partners to set up the speciality vehicles operation.


A subsidiary of Walkinshaw Automotive Group, HSV is GM’s most significant local partner that already converts the Chevrolet Camaro sportscar and Silverado pick-up truck to right-hand drive, selling them through its own specialist dealer network.


“We do believe there is a future. Our intention is through the GM speciality vehicles (business) model. The detail of what product and how we go to market is still to be confirmed,” Mr Blissett said.


“We are in discussions with our partners here in Australia and New Zealand as to how we will do that.


“Although it’s not firmed up formally, our intent and our desire is to stay in the market albeit in a different format, a different (business) model.


“We are obviously in negotiations with our partners to make that happen. That is still a work in progress, we’ve made good progress so far but we’re not final, so yes we intend to have a presence in this market.”


This “different model” appears to be providing support for HSV to handle the conversion program as General Motors moves away from right-hand-drive production, as demonstrated by the decision this week – made in conjunction with the Holden market exit – to close its Rayong plant in Thailand, which produces Holden’s top-selling vehicle, the Colorado ute.


The C8 Corvette program that was confirmed for Australia last year and scheduled for release during 2020 was to have been produced at GM’s Bowling Green plant in Kentucky.


But this is looking increasingly unlikely.


Asked about the right-hook Corvette program, Mr Blissett said: “We haven’t decided how to do that yet, but Corvette is selling extremely well globally and it’s well received, and right-hand-drive Corvette still keeps being developed.”


Holden’s interim chairman and managing director Kristian Aquilina added: “We’ve got to make some decisions on what we do with Corvette in the Australian and New Zealand market, so putting that aside, nothing else with Corvette has changed.


“What we do with the specialty business opportunity is something that we’re still developing and we’ll have more to say in the future on that.


“We’re not prepared to do that now. We want to talk to our partner about the impact of this decision and we did say, and we have announced today, that our intention is to retain our speciality vehicle business and that is at its infancy stages and once we have more to say on that we will be happy to share it with you.”


Mr Aquilina also emphasised that it would be only a small operation.


“If there is a presence, and there is still a lot of water to go under the bridge, and I don’t want this to be a distraction from the bigger message from today and Holden’s announcement, but if there is an ongoing presence it will be a very minimal one,” he said.


“The focus of us today, rather than really wanting to be here to talk about GM speciality vehicles, is just to reassure our customers and our employees and dealers and suppliers is that we will be doing the right thing by them as a result of this decision.


“It’s a difficult decision for all of us. We are heartbroken. We are absolutely saddened. We’re not really in the mood today to talk about future business opportunities, we’re just talking, really, about what we’re going to do to support our people that rely on us.”


Asked whether GM was effectively dead in Australia, Mr Aquilina said: “I can’t commit 10 years out. But we have to make the necessary arrangements as we scale down, and the absolute detailed nature of that, that’s kind of unknown to us right now.”


GM president, and former Holden chairman and managing director, Mark Reuss said in a statement: “We do believe we have an opportunity to profitably grow the specialty vehicle business and plan to work with our partner to do that.”

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