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Holden to have broader appeal as importer: Ferlazzo

Face up: All future Holden models will carry a similar corporate face, despite being sourced from a variety of countries, according to GMH design boss Richard Ferlazzo.

GMH design boss says more diverse model range as full-line importer will be positive

10 Mar 2015

GENERAL Motors’ decision to close its manufacturing operations in Australia will ultimately lead to a more diverse range of Holden models that will appeal to a broader range of customers, according to GM Australia design director Richard Ferlazzo.

Notwithstanding the fact that the move has stripped the Port Melbourne-based design operations of its role as a ‘primary studio’ for GM worldwide – but maintains its involvement in a diverse range of global products – Mr Ferlazzo told GoAuto last week that there were upsides for customers with the move to a fully imported range from late 2017.

“The cars that we have got coming, in fact that opens up a massive opportunity,” he said.

“We will probably have a better portfolio than we have had in the past, and while I am extremely sad about the demise of manufacturing, for the customer there will be some upside in that we can choose from a broader portfolio because we don’t have to either protect or develop the local manufacturing.

“So we can choose. There is some exciting products, a lot of General Motors products are being refreshed right now anyhow, so we will have a wave of great new products coming.” Mr Ferlazzo, who was speaking to GoAuto at the opening of the ‘Shifting Gear’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, confirmed that the Australian studio is “working on some of those vehicles” but declined to go into details.

When asked specifically whether the local design team was working on an SUV replacement for the ageing Captiva, Mr Ferlazzo highlighted the Australian studio’s responsibilities as a global design centre.

“I won’t be specific, but I can tell you we work on everything because that’s our role. So, sure: SUVs, sedans, small cars, large cars, the whole lot.” As previously reported, Holden announced last month that it will launch 24 “major” new models by 2020 including the new-generation Barina Spark (based on the Opel Karl/Vauxhall Viva), a Captiva SUV replacement and an all-new seven-seat SUV. A third of these models will be sourced from Europe.

While American-owned cross-town rival Ford switched a lot of its product sourcing in the early-to-mid 2000s to Europe, in the same period Holden scaled back its reliance on Opel product as it became too costly, instead focusing on GM’s South Korean operation which was purchased from the then bankrupt Daewoo in 2001.

Despite generally positive feedback from media and customers regarding its European models, Ford sales have slipped each year in the past 10 years from 129,140 and a market share of 13.1 per cent in 2005 to 79,703 sales last year and a diminished share of 7.2 per cent.

Mr Ferlazzo acknowledged the quality rival product coming from South Korea and Japan, but highlighted the success Holden had with rebadged Opel products such as the Barina and Astra small cars and Vectra mid-sizer in the earlier part of the last decade.

“Only the exchange rate will determine that,” he said. “The Koreans and the Japanese are making great cars, as are the Europeans and Americans. It’s levelled out greatly in that respect. Yes, they (consumers) are comfortable buying those brands, but we will source from all over the world as well.

“We are not exclusively one source. We will need to select a portfolio that fits the segment. European cars are excellent cars and we frankly had a great run with all the Opel products in the early 2000s. At the time though things became expensive for us to continue with those vehicles, which is why the experiment with the Korean vehicles came about.

“It had to happen because the European cars were expensive at the time and we couldn’t sustain that. In hindsight, did it do anything for the brand? Probably not, but we are now in a different position. Now it’s far more exciting in that respect.” Mr Ferlazzo admitted that Holden was currently in a “transition period” with the shift from local manufacturer to a sales company by late 2017, but added that the core values of the brand would remain.

“This is an attainable, affordable brand, but it’s one that delivers a driver enjoyment. All the things that come with having a large (dealer) network – peace of mind, servicing, staff, dealerships – that plays a big part. We could easily brush that off but it makes a big difference to people. That will all exist.

“We are repositioning somewhat where we retain the core values, but take it to another level,” he said.

Mr Ferlazzo also confirmed that future Holden models will continue to have an identifiable family face, despite being sourced from a variety of General Motors brands and countries.

While he acknowledged there was a risk that sourcing from multiple brands could produce a disjointed design aesthetic, the Australian design boss insisted the local team was capable of ensuring a Holden identity.

“There is a risk of that but we have been able to manage that in two ways,” he said.

“Firstly there are fewer brands within General Motors around the world than there used to be, so there is already a consolidation of brands and flavours, so we won’t need to choose from all of those brands.

“Then we can do some individual styling to refine those better for our environment. And arguably that’s what we have been doing for the last 50 years as well. That will continue. It’s a good question but we are on top of it.” Mr Ferlazzo said future models would carry a familiar Holden corporate face to ensure consistency across its range.

“Yes, there will always be a Holden face. Every car brand desires an identity, and ours, like everyone else’s … evolve that face over time, but there needs to be some showroom family resemblance.” Mr Ferlazzo was not prepared to divulge how the new face would appear compared with the current line-up, but said the future Holden look would not necessarily reference the past. Instead, it will emphasise the company’s desire to be seen as a passionate brand.

“It’s more about capturing the image of the brand. It will continue to be a passionate brand with a driver focus, athletic and dynamic. That will continue.”

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