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Holden wanted more for less, documents show

Growing pains: Holden’s mid-size Malibu is one of GM’s global Epsilon-based platforms that could have been built in Adelaide had the car-maker remained in manufacturing.

Documents show Holden wanted to build mid-sized front-drive car alongside Cruze

Holden logo16 Apr 2014

By BARRY PARK

HOLDEN had asked the government for more taxpayer money to build fewer cars using a shrinking number of Australian parts, documents released under freedom of information legislation show.

The documents, released to Federal Member for Wakefield Nick Champion and relating to federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s October 2 meeting with Holden managing director Mike Devereux, paint a grim picture for Holden’s future in Australia.

The revelation was made in a briefing document prepared for Mr Macfarlane ahead of the meeting – the minister’s first with the car-maker since the Abbott Government’s election, and months before Holden was forced into announcing it would shutter its Australian car-making operations.

“You would be aware that I am currently considering automotive policy options,” the briefing, titled Talking points – Holden/SA government says.

“I understand Holden’s need for policy certainty in order for long-term investments to be made.

“However, Holden is seeking additional assistance for smaller production volumes, a smaller spend on locally produced components, and to support fewer supply chain companies,” it says.

Hoden declined to comment on the contents of the document.

“We’re not going to engage in hypothetical speculation,” Holden manager of corporate communications Sean Poppitt said.

“Holden looked at every possible option to build our next-gen vehicles in Australia but the perfect storm of negative influences the industry faced – including the sustained strength of the dollar and high production costs – meant the long-term business case was simply not viable.

“We also don’t publicly discuss any details of talks with government,” he said.

“Those discussions were, and remain, commercially confidential information to our business.”

An Industry Department spokesperson told GoAuto the numbers that contributed to Mr Macfarlane’s briefing documents also would not be released despite the announcement that Holden would quit car-making in Australia from late in 2017.

“The information you requested is commercial-in-confidence and has been redacted from the documents released under FOI accordingly,” the spokesperson said.

The documents released under FOI also reveal that, along with the next-generation Cruze small car, Holden planned to build a vehicle based on GM’s global Epsilon platform.

That platform underpins one car that, despite being imported from Korea, has very specifically been tuned to Australian tastes – the mid-size Holden Malibu.

However, the $28,490 Malibu has struggled to win buyers against more established rivals including the locally made fleet car specialist the $30,490 Toyota Camry, a more fuel-efficient and technology-laden $33,460 Mazda6 and even Ford’s ageing $31,490 Mondeo.

In the first three months of this year, Holden’s petrol and diesel-only Malibu has pegged 368 sales compared with petrol and hybrid-engined market leader Camry’s 4983, and has undersold rivals including the petrol-only Honda Accord and Volkswagen’s petrol and diesel Passat sedan and wagon range, as well as the Golf-with-a-boot Jetta sedan featuring a similar fuel mix.

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