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Holden still eyes US exports

Where there's smoke: The short-lived, Holden-built Pontiac G8 makes its debut at the Chicago motor show.

Holden working on Take Two of its Commodore export program to North America

Holden logo28 Apr 2009


ONE of the clear messages coming from inside Holden is that the end of Pontiac may not be the end of Australian exports to the US.

In fact, there are some suggestions that freeing Holden from a struggling brand, which has admitted it did not have enough money to promote the Australian-made Pontiac G8, would give Holden the opportunity to align its export hopes with a GM brand with a stronger future and more resources.

One Holden insider told GoAuto: “We are not going to give up on getting the Commodore into the US.” The key here is that the end of Pontiac frees Holden up to look at other opportunities in the US market. With the Pontiac link severed, it gives Holden the opportunity to look at a number of different options which Holden people say they have been pursuing but are not able to discuss.

In many ways the Pontiac alignment was unfortunate. The reason Holden was aligned with Pontiac was that Bob Lutz fell in love with the Monaro and thought it would be a great vehicle to revive the Pontiac GTO.

So the GTO was the nameplate that got the Holden relationship between Bob Lutz and Peter Hanenberger going. Then, because the relationship was in place with Pontiac, they followed on with the G8.

13 center imageLeft: The Pontiac ST (Sport Truck).

With Pontiac gone, what options are there? One possibility is to position the Ute as a downsizing option for Americans driving big pick-ups. The Holden Ute was about to be exported to Pontiac but Pontiac pulled the pin when the Aussie dollar nearly reached parity with the US dollar late last year. Pontiac also ran out of money to launch and promote it.

With the exchange rate now in the right place there is a feeling inside Holden that it should revive the prospects of Ute exports and that GMC could add it to its range.

There is already a Holden relationship with GMC through the Denali concept car which was a Holden Crewman with a GMC front. Holden produced that concept for GMC last year.

What about Chevrolet? While Holdens are sold in the Middle East as Chevrolets, there may be an issue with Chevrolet pitching a rear-drive car when the focus in the US will be front-drive to meet fuel economy targets.

Also, unless Holdens could be sold as niche Chevrolets, like HSV, it could not possibly supply a mainstream brand like Chevrolet in the US with enough vehicles.

But Holden could also become a supplier to Cadillac. Cadillac sells rear-drive cars and Cadillac volumes are smaller and more in line with volumes that can be run through the Elizabeth plant.

GoAuto understands Holden has put business cases for both long-wheelbase and short-wheelbase VEs to Cadillac.

There is clearly demand in the US for the Commodore as a niche vehicle. The G8 had suffered far less than most other GM vehicles in the US and had its best month ever in March with 2939 sales, despite Pontiac admitting that they did not put the marketing dollars into the car.

For Elizabeth, the short-term effect will be minimal because Holden, faced with a drop in export demand of 86 per cent year-on-year, had already scaled back production of left-hand drive cars, anyway. That led to the decision to close the plant for weeks at a time earlier this year.

In addition to pitching for fresh business for the US, Holden is now gearing up for Delta small-car production. While the Delta business case did not need exports to make money, Holden is now looking at the potential for up to 20,000 cars a year for export.

There may also be opportunities in Asia. GM’s Thailand operations are under a cloud because GM does not have the money to keep it going. The GM Thailand operation has been making about 100,000 vehicles a year but the projections are that it will struggle to make 70,000 units in 2009. It makes the Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max.

Closing Thailand would see Thai production moving elsewhere and Holden could possibly step in and pick up other production when the music stops. It has already taken the Delta program from Thailand, which also had its hand up to build the Cruze but lost the business to Holden.

Read more:

Pontiac under threat: Bloomberg

Holden axes shift

Pontiac G8 record best ever sales in March

Pontiac axes Aussie ute

Holden export fright

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