As revealed last week, GM and the Walkinshaw Group, the parent of Holden Special Vehicles, are deep in negotiation to finalise an agreement that will result in selected North American-built Chev models converted to right-hand drive in Melbourne for local sale.
Wheels understands Holden veteran Peter ‘PK’ Keley is leading the GM investigation into what is referred to as GM Specialty Vehicles (GMSV) and may also end up leading the new venture. Keley refused to comment on the matter when contacted.
Keley’s been a senior player at Holden from the glory days of the Zeta global architecture, right through to the dismal final stanza as an importer.
Passionate and personable, he even owns a HSV GTSR W1 (as well as a WB Caprice and a Monaro GTS 308 V8 coupe).
Former Holden and current GM president Mark Reuss voiced his support for the new business model in the press release that announced Holden’s death in February.
“We do believe we have an opportunity to profitably grow the specialty vehicle business and plan to work with our partner to do that,” he was quoted as saying.
Wheels understands three possible business structures exist for the new venture.
The first is that GM simply walks away from Australia and hands local distribution rights to Walkinshaw Group.
The second is a joint-venture; shared costs and shared profits, shared risk and shared returns. GM supplies the metal, Walkinshaw engineers it for right-hand drive and remanufactures it. A dedicated, co-owned marketing and sales organisation moves it.
But the option that makes most sense is GM owns the business and simply contracts Walkinshaw to engineer and remanufacture the models it imports from its North American factories.
Walkinshaw already does something very much like this for Neville Crichton’s American Special Vehicles (ASV). It is contracted to convert a number of different models in the DS-series Ram full-size pick-up range to right-hand drive.
If the GMSV deal goes this way, for the first time since HSV was established in 1987 the Walkinshaw name would not be directly linked to new road vehicles sold to the Australian public.
If GM does have sole control, let’s hope for more competitive pricing. As Walkinshaw has discovered, it’s expensive as an independent to ship in built-up vehicles, pull them apart, remanufacture them and then put them back together. As good as it is, the Camaro has suffered here because it is so much more expensive than the Ford Mustang.
Another upside for GM of sole control of local sales and marketing would be that if it wanted to expand its local presence in the future it would have no-one to negotiate with.
Sounds unlikely? Well, don’t forget GM is investing billions in electric vehicles, and making them left- or right-hand drive is a lot less costly than converting orthodox ICE vehicles. When the world is driven by electricity, the company’s global current retraction could turn to expansion.
Wheels understands the mammoth Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pick-up, just launched by HSV in Australia, is a logical member of the initial GMSV range, while the Tahoe SUV is a likely addition.
But the verdict on local sale of the right-hand-drive Chevrolet Corvette C8 remains hazy, as does the addition of the huge Suburban SUV.
Right-hand-drive Corvette production was thrown under a cloud recently as the global COVID-19 pandemic grips the automotive world. Wheels has been informed that even if GM decides to cease right-hook production for the C8, Walkinshaw is willing to convert the mid-engined V8 sports car locally.
HSV has ceased the remanufacturing process for both naturally aspirated and supercharged Camaros, and the V8 coupe remains unlikely to return to Australia – despite the success of its naturally aspirated rival the Ford Mustang.
The Walkinshaw Group has earned recognition within GM for the quality of the left- to right-hand drive conversion work it has performed on the Silverado and Camaro sold through the HSV brand.
Walkinshaw turned to remanufacturing – as it dubs conversion - when Holden’s Elizabeth plant was shuttered in 2017. That was the source of the locally developed Commodores upon which HSV built its sales and reputation and Holden itself built its identity.
Holden was axed in February in part because the cost of left- to right-hand drive conversion at overseas GM factory sources simply didn’t stack-up financially.
Under Mary Barra’s leadership, GM has contracted from marginal and right-hand drive markets. Sadly, Holden and Australia/New Zealand qualify as both.
But the local remanufacturing undertaken at Walkinshaw Park delivers GM an alternate business model that allows it to retain a factory presence in Australia.