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Holden in US comeback

Too good: The Holden-made Pontiac G8 might be saved, thanks to comeback car guy, Bob Lutz.

Export G8 back on export agenda as a Chev as Lutz makes GM return

13 Jul 2009

HOLDEN’S pivotal North American export program appears to have been resurrected by General Motors.

GM Holden today did not rule out a resumption of its Commodore export operations as mooted over the weekend by GM product guru Bob Lutz, who at 77 has reversed his decision to retire at the end of this year.

In a web chat this week, Mr Lutz said GM was studying the feasibility of resurrecting the Holden-made Pontiac G8 as a Chevrolet Caprice “for both law enforcement and the public”.

“The G8 has finally been discovered by a broader percentage of the buying public,” Mr Lutz said.

“The owners are ecstatic about them, many calling it the best sedan they've ever driven. We consider it too good to waste.” Just hours after ‘New GM’ emerged from 39 days of Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday (June 10), Mr Lutz told automobilemag.com that exports of the stateside Commodore, production of which had already ceased when GM announced it would axe the historic Pontiac brand in late April, would recommence because of export agreements with GM Holden and the fact the Commodore is already sold in the Middle East as a Chevrolet.

196 center imageLeft: GM vice-chairman Bob Lutz.

“It is kind of too good to waste,” he said.

GM Holden spokesman Scott Whiffin today said Holden was “not in a position to add to Bob’s comments”.

“Obviously, an awful lot is going on a GM in the US at the moment,” he said, adding: “Bob has been a big supporter of Holden over the years – he’s a good bloke to have in our corner.” In the US, Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson echoed the Holden sentiment: “Right now we’re exploring a lot of possibilities for fully utilising our global portfolio.

“Holden has provided us with some great vehicles, but no decision has been made as to what will happen with those vehicles in the future. It's not outside the realm of possibility, but no decision has been made yet.” Automotive News quotes unnamed GM sources as saying GM will “definitely” sell the G8 as a law enforcement vehicle, and was also considering the high-performance GXP version as a “five-seat Corvette” – a description that fits HSV’s range and the Australian-made Vauxhall VXR8.

As GoAuto has previously reported, Holden has continued to “actively discuss” US Commodore exports since the shelving of the Pontiac G8, which after a slow start had attracted about 3000 sales per month in the lead-up to its demise.

Mr Lutz’ comments appear to about-face on G8 statements made by GM CEO Fritz Henderson, who poured cold water on the chances of US Commodore exports being revived under another brand when he said he was “not a fan of rebadging”.

As we reported in April, Holden has backed a plan that could see up to 40,000 Commodores exported to the US annually as law enforcement vehicles, alongside other similar potential deals in Canada, the UK and Middle East.

GM vice-chairman of global product development Tom Stephens, who replaced Mr Lutz in April, last month confirmed that discussions are taking place about continuing Commodore exports to the US under a badge other than the current Pontiac G8.

Mr Stephens backed comments from Holden management indicating that rebranding the performance sedan remained an option when he told US industry journal Automotive News:

“I know there’s still discussions on it.” Holden’s case for continued export programs might be strengthened by GM’s new international operations structure, which will be run globally out of Shanghai under new GM vice president Nick Reilly – another GM executive with extensive Holden relationships as the former president of GM Asia Pacific.

Mr Lutz, who has described the alliance forged between the US and Australia as his “proudest accomplishment”, moved to an advisory role at GM on April 1 and will now continue on in that capacity within the new GM management structure announced last week.

He will extend his career as vice-chairman in charge of all “creative elements of products and customer relationships,” with the marketing, advertising and communications chiefs of GM’s four continuing brands reporting to “for consistent messaging and results”.

“I am pleased to announce that we are 'unretiring' Bob Lutz so he can fill this important position in the new GM,” Henderson said in Friday’s news conference.

“He has a proven track record of unleashing creativity in the design and development of GM cars and trucks. This new role allows him to take that passion a step further, applying it to other parts of GM that connect directly with customers.” Described by former GM chief Rick Wagoner as “a legendary automotive product guy” when he the ex-BMW, Ford and Chrysler executive in 2001, Mr Lutz has long been a champion of Holden’s global engineering and design role within the GM, which began with the MY2004 Pontiac GTO.

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