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Holden engineers lose ground-up design role

Testing times: Holden's Lang Lang proving ground photographed from above.

Proving ground saved but VF Commodore the last Aussie Holden built from ground up

Holden logo1 May 2014

By BARRY PARK

GENERAL Motors has confirmed that Holden will keep its design, engineering and product development workforce – although with a much-reduced capacity.

GM International Operations president Stefan Jacoby today revealed that about 60 employees from Holden’s 140-strong Lang Lang proving ground would be made redundant from the end of 2017 as work at the site is scaled down.

However, the proving ground – the test-bed for every Holden model since the 1958 FC – will not, as GM announced last December, close down in conjunction with the remainder of its vehicle, engine and related manufacturing operations in Australia.

While the reprieve for the South Gippsland-based facility saves a number of jobs and provides Australia with an ongoing role in the US auto giant’s global engineering programs, the company will, as originally anticipated, lose its ability to develop cars straight from the designers’ tables.

This means Australia loses its status of being one of only seven countries worldwide capable of designing and building a vehicle from the ground up, making the VF Commodore the last of its breed.

Mr Jacoby said GM still believed Lang Lang had an important role in company’s global research and development arm – although on a much-reduced scale.

“The Australian design and research capability is also a critical asset for GM globally,” he said.

“This local team is a key part of the global design and the global engineering strategy for GM in the future.

“The Lang Lang team will remain locked into GM’s global engineering development, with ongoing input into product programs that reach beyond Holden and influence GM vehicles around the world.”

The Lang Lang site will provide local suspension and steering tuning to a fleet of new imported vehicles that will take the place of locally made models including the strong-selling Commodore and the under-performing Cruze.

Mr Jacoby said Holden’s design centre would also help to not just shape future Holden-badged models, but “also GM vehicles, again from around the world”.

Holden chairman and managing director Gerry Dorizos welcomed GM’s decision.

“As the son of an engineer, I’m very pleased that we will also remain the home as the best local tuning operations in Australia,” he said.

He said the decision to reverse the proving ground’s closure came about after talks between Holden and GM to work out a strategy for bringing out new products.

“We thought it was very important to also keep the proving grounds not only for testing vehicles but for tuning them to the Australian consumer,” he said.

“It will be involved in global products as well, but mainly for finetuning these vehicles.”

Mr Jacoby said the car-maker had not yet made up its mind if the proving ground would retain all its current capabilities.

The site covers almost 900 hectares of roads and natural bushland, and facilities include a safety test centre and an exhaust emission laboratory.

It also has a 44km network of dirt and sealed ride and durability testing circuits, including a steeply banked 1.4-kilometre-long high-speed loop.

A Holden spokesman told GoAuto that parts of locally developed suspension tunes specifically for Australian-market cars had been adapted to suit overseas models, proving the ability of the local engineering team.

Meanwhile, the union representing Holden engineers has called on the car-maker to commit to keeping engineering operations in Australia.

Professionals Australia chief executive Chris Walton said that while he welcomed the company’s announcement that it would maintain the Lang Lang site, product engineers at the company’s Port Melbourne site still faced redundancy by the end of 2017.

“Holden said this morning that it wants to be the home to a design, engineering and product development workforce in Australia,” Mr Walton said.

“To achieve this, the company must now commit to maintaining fully capable engineering operations at Port Melbourne beyond 2017.

“There is a clear future for automotive engineering in Australia. Ford has committed to maintaining its engineering and design centre here beyond 2017, now it’s time for Holden to do the same.

“Holden’s engineering operations and the automotive engineers at Port Melbourne are world leaders. They have proven they can engineer vehicles for the world.

There is no business case to tear this down.

“Even with this decision today, around 700 engineers and related staff will be made redundant by 2017.

“Professionals Australia understands a number of Holden engineers have been offered jobs in Detroit. The decision of GM to offer jobs proves they are highly regarded.

“But governments should fight to avoid losing their skills,” he said.

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