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Holden takes a leap into the future

Recruitment drive: GM will employ an addition 150 engineers that will work in Australia as part of its global Advanced Vehicle Design division.

Engineering expansion puts Holden at forefront of GM vehicle development

21 Aug 2018

HOLDEN will help lead the charge on advanced automotive engineering and design for General Motors (GM), with a team of 500 engineers and designers working on cutting edge technologies such as autonomous and electric vehicles.
GM today announced that it is planning to recruit an extra 150 engineers to create the Australian team that will become a key unit of GM’s Advanced Vehicle Development division that already has operations in Detroit, South Korea and China.
It is a major morale boost for Holden, its staff and dealers who have suffered through the demise of local manufacturing last year and plunging sales as Holden struggles to reinvent itself as an importer.
Holden’s Melbourne-based design studio, GM Design Australia, is already working on advanced designs for GM, with several futuristic concept cars already shipped to GM’s main design studio in Warren, Michigan, for internal assessment.
The new-look Holden vehicle development effort is still small compared with Holden’s R&D team of pre-global financial crisis days when its staff of 900 was responsible for the global rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform development that spawned the VE and VF Commodores, and Chevrolet Camaro.
It is also smaller than Ford’s Asia Pacific Product Development team in Australia which has 1500 engineers and designers working on a range of products, including the global Ford Ranger.
While Ford’s R&D budget in Australia is almost $500 million, the GM spend here will be $120 million – a boost of $28 million.
Announcing the engineering expansion, GM executive vice-president of global product development Mark Reuss – a former Holden managing director who helped see Holden safely through the GFC – said Australian engineers would be fully integrated into global GM engineering teams to develop leading technologies to drive the future of mobility. 
“GM is determined to be the first company to bring safe, autonomous vehicles to market — not within years, but in quarters,” he said.
“Make no mistake, we’re moving to a driverless future — a future of safer roads and zero crashes,” said Mr Reuss. “At the same time, GM is well on its way to bringing at least 20 new all-electric models to market by 2023. 
“The world-class vehicle engineering capability we have at Holden in Australia will play a significant role in GM delivering on its commitment to create a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” 
Mr Reuss – himself an engineer by trade – said his experience with Holden in Australia and knowledge of local automotive engineering had influenced his support for the new engineering unit.
“The depth of engineering talent and experience here is extraordinary,” he said.
Mr Reuss said the automotive industry was in for more change in the next five years than in the past 50, and he likened it to the invention of the horseless carriage.
GM has already started recruiting engineers – both experienced workers and graduates – to fill the roles, and hopes to have all positions filled by the end of 2019.
Some are likely to be former Holden engineers wanting to return home after being made redundant when Holden announced its decision to kill local manufacturing and scale back its engineering force in 2013.
Several are also likely to be poached from Ford and other manufacturers overseas.
The cutting-edge nature of the work will be a big attraction to applicants, according to Mr Reuss.
“If you want to work on something new, this is the place to do it,” he said.
Mr Reuss said the fact that about 40 Australian engineers were already working on such projects in America helped the decision, as it meant there would be a good understanding between the US and Australian teams.
Also at today’s announcement was GM executive vice-president of global design Michael Simcoe – an Australian who cut his teeth at Holden – whose team at Holden will work with the engineers on futurist design.
GM has also spent $20 million refurbishing its Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria in readiness for the new advanced engineering work while also carrying current operations that include modifying imported models for the Australian market and doing powertrain calibration work for all branches of GM.
GM Holden executive director of engineering Brett Vivian said Australian engineers had played a critical role in vehicle development for Holden and GM globally since 1946. 
“This announcement of 150 new engineers at Holden to work on global advanced vehicle development comes on top of significant upgrades we have made to the emissions test lab and test tracks at our Lang Lang proving ground,” he said.
“Holden’s engineering unit has a bright future undertaking important local and global work, from ensuring imported Holden vehicles can master Australia’s unique driving conditions, to developing the technologies that will power the future of mobility globally.”
Also at the announcement was new Holden managing director and chairman Dave Buttner – a former Toyota Australia president – who is still just weeks into his new role.
Mr Buttner said GM’s strong commitment to Holden was providing Australian motorists with benefits today and well into the future. 
“Before any vehicle can earn the right to be a Holden, our engineers clock up 4000 hours and 200,000 kilometres in Australian conditions, testing everything from the suspension to radio performance and recognising Australian road signs,” he said. 
“This means that anyone who buys a Holden can have the utmost confidence that their vehicle can take anything Australian roads can dish out. Holden’s current range of vehicles is the best we’ve ever had, in large part because our local engineers’ fingerprints are all over them.” 

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