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Holden’s proving ground to get a spruce up

Seal of approval: Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground turns 60 next year, and thanks to renovations, should have an assured future.

Renovation rescue signals long-term future for Holden’s Lang Lang test facility

29 Feb 2016

BACK from a near-death experience in 2013, Holden's Lang Lang proving ground is to get a 60th-birthday makeover in an apparent vote of confidence in the future of Australian car engineering by parent company General Motors.

The multi-million-dollar overhaul will include a new emissions testing lab and bitumen resealing works for the massive circular 4.7km high-speed banked loop, both of which are critical to vehicle powertrain calibration work at the 877 hectare facility.

Built for the proving ground’s opening in 1957, the loop is believed to have been last resealed in 1992 at a cost of $1.2 million.

Although there is no suggestion that the American giant will revive the ground-up vehicle development role that GM Holden once held, the work to address deterioration at the ageing but still-valuable car test facility in Victoria means it can at least see a future for Holden Engineering's contribution to global GM products.

GM announced in late 2013 that the proving ground and associated engineering operation would be closed along with Holden's factories in South Australia and Victoria in the wake of the American parent company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the global financial crisis.

But in May 2014, GM International president Stefan Jacoby announced a reprieve for the proving ground, about an hour's drive south-east of Melbourne, although 50 of the 150 staff based there would be made redundant.

Many of the workers let go were test drivers employed to rack up thousands of kilometres in durability testing – a function mostly associated with local vehicle development – and mechanics who maintained those cars.

Many Holden insiders hope that Australia, with its skilful automotive engineering workforce, will regain a larger role in GM's vehicle development program over time.

Holden's once formidable array of engineering skills have been dissipated with the dismissal of 700 engineers who produced locally developed vehicles for Australian manufacture, but the remaining team of about 200 engineers and technicians spread between Lang Lang and Holden’s Port Melbourne engineering centre still provide services for global sister brands such as Opel and Chevrolet, as well as doing local chassis tuning for Australian conditions.

One of the major remaining operations is powertrain calibration – a skill honed at Holden since the days of local Family 2 four-cylinder engine production and export program in the 1980s.

GM last year announced that powertrain calibration testing for global models will be done at the proving ground, for GM sister brands such as Opel and Chevrolet.

As well, chassis engineers who did the global suspension tuning for the Chevrolet/Holden Trax are continuing to refine new models, recently working on the upcoming Spark light hatchback and facelifted Colorado ute and Colorado 7 ahead of the release of these models this year.

Holden says the team will be kept busy working on many of the 24 new models to be launched by Holden by 2020.

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