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Holden wins Chinese car development deal

For the win: Last month, three Shanghai GM products made the Chinese top 10 in sales, with the Buick Excelle (left) number one.

Aussie designers and engineers set to craft two GM vehicles for the Chinese market

Holden logo16 Apr 2012

GM HOLDEN has won a deal to design and engineer at least two new vehicles to be built in China, joining Ford Australia as a source of car development expertise for the world’s biggest motor market.

The vehicles will be developed in Melbourne on global General Motors platforms under a long-term partnership that will help to secure vital engineering jobs at Holden, where the 2014 VF Commodore program could be the last home-grown rear-drive large car from the iconic Australian car-maker.

The announcement – issued on the same day that Toyota Australia started firing 350 workers from its Altona factory due to a slump in export sales – is a shot in the arm for the local car industry and another feather in cap of Holden designers and engineers who have been responsible for recent big-selling models such as the Chevrolet/Holden Cruze hatch.

It also comes as speculation mounts that Holden might be about to revive Commodore sales in the United States, where a car of that ilk is said to be under preparation for NASCAR racing.

Holden says it cannot say which Chinese vehicles it will develop or what brands they will be sold under, only that it will tailor them for the Chinese domestic market.

The vehicles could be Chevrolets or Buicks, as GM vice-president of global design Ed Welburn told GoAuto at the Detroit motor show in January that Holden Design had projects underway for both brands at its Port Melbourne design studios.

 center imageLeft: GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux. Below: Chevrolet Sail.

Cross-town rival Ford Australia is known to be working on a Chinese car project, following in the wheel tracks of its super-successful Ford Figo, a redevelopment of the Fiesta light car for Ford of India, and its ground-up development of the global Ford Ranger ute and an associated SUV that is yet to be launched.

The Holden work is for Shanghai GM and will be done in partnership with Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre (PATAC), the design and engineering centre established jointly by GM and its major partner in China, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).

PATAC is said to be overloaded with tasks for the Chinese domestic market, where the fast-growing Shanghai GM sells more than a million cars a year under the Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and Opel brands.

Last month, three Shanghai GM products made the Chinese top 10 in sales, with the Buick Excelle number one.

Holden is already working on several design projects for other GM branches, including GM Korea, under GM International Operations Design headed by Melbourne-based executive director Mike Simcoe.

The company normally does not announce such still-secret design and engineering projects, but the company is keen to let it be known that it does do design and engineering work in the wider world.

With the Beijing motor show opening next week in the full glare of the world’s media, Holden has decided to reveal the deal rather than have it leak out in an uncontrolled manner.

Announcing the latest partnership to Holden staffers today, GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said Holden had worked on smaller projects with Shanghai GM in the past, but that this was the first significant, long-term project with the Chinese partners.

“It gives the Holden workforce a great sense of pride to work on global vehicle programs like this and to see Australian design, engineering and manufacturing expertise exported around the world,” he said.

Mr Devereux said Holden was a valuable source of expertise within GM International Operations.

“We’re one of only seven fully-integrated design, engineering and manufacturing operations in the GM world,” he said.

Holden is hoping the initial two vehicles will be just the start of a successful marriage with GM’s Chinese operations.

Holden’s external communications director Emily Perry said: “There is always the potential for us to do more, which would be fantastic.” One vehicle already under development in China is being designed by a team headed by former Holden designer Ondrej Koromhaz, who previously headed the GM team leading the design of the Holden Barina/Chevrolet Aveo when he was based at GM Korea.

The Holden connection goes right to the top at GM in China, where former Holden director Kevin Wale is president and managing director of GM China Group, which has three joint ventures in China, including Shanghai GM, which is 51 per cent owned by SAIC and 49 per cent by GM.

In 2011, GM and its partners sold 2.5 million vehicles in China, where total vehicle sales topped 18 million for the year, rewriting the record books.

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