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Holden Design forever, says GM design boss

Going nowhere: GM vice-president of design Ed Welburn says he wants more Holden input such as its development effort on the successful Chevrolet Camaro.

GM's Welburn says Holden Design is set to stay, regardless of manufacturing decision

Holden logo22 Nov 2013

By RON HAMMERTON in LOS ANGELES

HOLDEN'S design studio will continue regardless of any decision affecting the company's manufacturing future in Australia, according to the man calling the shots on General Motors' global design, Ed Welburn.

“Design will be there and will be supported by quality engineers,” the GM vice-president of global design told GoAuto at the Los Angeles motor show. “The design team there is so good, and we depend on them so much globally.” Mr Welburn revealed that Holden designers were working on a number of international projects for Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac, including a couple of concept cars to be seen at motor shows in future.

“They are involved in an awful lot of what we are doing,” he said. “Some of their work you will see at a couple of shows coming up.

“All I can say is that there are a couple of concept vehicles that the Holden design studio has a very significant role in, in their design and the actual build of the concept of the vehicles – the fabrication.” Mr Welburn said most of the Holden work was on Chevrolet and Buick, with just a little on Cadillac.

“And they continue to do this work,” he said. “They do far more than Holden products.” Mr Welburn said GM's top executives understood the importance of the Holden design contribution, and continued to support the studio in Melbourne.

“The leaders of the company understand how valuable they are to us,” he said. “We will continue to to use their studio and they will continue to be supported by a quality team of engineers. Design will continue.” GM Holden is locked in discussions with the new federal government on the future of its manufacturing operations in Adelaide – the site of its man assembly plant at Elizabeth – and Melbourne, where it has a V6 engine factory.

Holden hopes to build replacements for its current Commodore large car and Cruze small car from about 2016-17, taking GM manufacturing in Australia beyond 2020.

But that is largely dependent on the size of government support for automotive manufacturing in Australia – the subject of much discussion between Holden and Canberra right now.

A man who knows a lot about such discussions to save a company in peril is former Holden chairman and managing director Mark Ruess, who is now GM North America president and heir-apparent to the GM presidency.

Mr Reuss secured loan guarantees for Holden from the Australian government during the height of the global financial crisis in 2008-9, when the GM parent company was spiralling into bankruptcy, leaving Holden standing alone as the world economy crashed.

Mr Ruess's cool head in a time of crisis did not go unnoticed in Detroit, and he was promptly recruited to help reinvigorate the new-look GM back in America.

But Mr Reuss was not buying into the current Holden predicament when GoAuto spoke with him at this week's Los Angeles motor show.

He said he was now too distant from Holden, and did not know enough of the political situation to comment.

Holden's rival Ford Australia has already announced it is quitting manufacturing in Australia within three years, and instead will concentrate on its local design and engineering programs.

If Holden does pack its manufacturing tent too, it also will be aiming to maintain a significant design and engineering presence in Australia, judging from Mr Welburn's comments.

Holden recent downsized its engineering team in Australia, make about 40 engineers redundant at the end of the VF Commodore/Chevrolet SS program.

But Mr Welburn said that while Holden has a design role within GM, it would also have an engineering team to support it.

“It is a great team,” he said. “I love going down there, and I must get down there again soon.”

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