Chevrolet Special Vehicles?

words - Bruce Newton
Walkinshaw group plans to turn Holden closure into an opportunity

The Walkinshaw Group is looking to use the successful Holden Special Vehicles business model as the basis for an expansion of its relationship with General Motors, including a ‘halo’ performance brand for Chevrolet.

The need to redefine and potentially grow its relationship with GM is being driven by the decision to cease manufacturing in Australia by the end of 2017, cutting off HSV’s supply of its current core vehicle, the locally-built Commodore rear-wheel drive V8 sedan.

If HSV is to continue in the RWD V8 business then Chevrolet models such as the next-gen Camaro due in 2015 and the much-mooted US-developed replacement for the Aussie-built Chevrolet SS sedan will be cornerstones of its range.

And if it’s developing Chevrolets to sell in Australia as HSVs, then why couldn’t the Walkinshaw group offer them in the USA as Chevrolet Special Vehicles?

Or at least that’s the theory that’s driving Walkinshaw Group Chairman Ryan Walkinshaw.

“We think something like that (CSV) could work,” Walkinshaw told motoring.com.au. “It depends on what products are available. It’s going to depend on the discussions with GM going forward. There’s a lot of factors we have to take into account.

“But I think we are pretty confident in what we do.

“We know we could deliver some pretty good products outside what we do with Commodore in Australia and we have proven that plenty of times before with our history and with what we are doing currently for other manufacturers.”

Such a gig would be a huge win for the Walkinshaw group, considering Chevrolet is GM’s designated global brand, albeit recently withdrawn from Europe.

And while all this might sound a fanciful ambition, it’s worth remembering three former Holden managing directors – Mark Reuss, Alan Batey and Mike Devereux – have risen further in the GM global management structure and understand and support what HSV does.

Reuss is now GM’s global product chief, Batey runs North America and Devereux, who had the onerous task of informing Holden workers last December of the Elizabeth shutdown, is now the sales and marketing chief for the region.

“We have good relationships with all three guys, particularly Mike Devereux,” said Walkinshaw. “That’s a much bigger discussion that we need to have, but obviously that’s something we are setting our sights on going forward.”

As has been consistently stated since the Holden closure announcement, the intention is for the HSV brand to continue on beyond 2017.

The preference is to retain its Clayton manufacturing base, although Walkinshaw admits the operation could shift overseas to be close to the manufacturing site of the company’s core vehicle.

“Ideally, it would be a nice simple transition to just get the cars off the ship part-finished and us to finish them off here,” said Walkinshaw. “It would also keep us as a company that genuinely makes Australian cars and makes them in Australia, which would be great.

“But if the opportunity arises and we have no other option then we are happy to look at manufacturing abroad and importing them as well.”

The next-gen Camaro and the expected SS would both be based on the new Alpha rear-wheel drive architecture that Cadillac has debuted under the CTS and ATS. North American manufacture of Alpha-based cars is being centralised by GM at the Lansing plant in Michigan.

HSV is part of the Walkinshaw-family owned Walkinshaw group. Established in 1987 by Ryan’s late father Tom, it has built more than 75,000 cars. A licensing agreement with Holden is due for renewal around 2015.

HSV had a leadership change in February, with marketing and sales boss Tim Jackson taking over from veteran MD Phil Harding.

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Published : Monday, 17 March 2014
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