Holden is gone but its parent, General Motors, will live on in Australia as part of a deal that is set to be announced imminently, with the Walkinshaw Group expected to represent GM in Australia.
The plan was flagged when the axing of Holden was announced on February 17, with references made to GM Specialty Vehicles (GMSV) in a media release and a press conference.
“Although it’s not firmed up formally, our intent and desire is to stay in the market, albeit in a different format and a different model with the GM Specialty Vehicles,” GM International Operations Senior Vice-President Julian Blissett told the media.
While the Walkinshaw Group wasn’t named specifically, the company itself and the family it’s named after have deep ties to both Holden and GM.
The late Tom Walkinshaw created Holden Special Vehicles and took over the brand’s touring car efforts after Holden’s polariser split with Peter Brock. Walkinshaw’s Australian lieutenant John Crennan built the road and racing business into an amazingly successful enterprise.
In more recent times, since the closure of local manufacturing in 2017, Tom’s son Ryan Walkinshaw has led the evolution of HSV into a converter (or remanufacturer) of left-hand-drive GM products to right-hand drive.
So far it’s converted several different models of the Chevrolet Silverado pick-up as well as the Camaro V8 coupe. It also converts Ram trucks under contract for Neville Crichton’s ASV (American Special Vehicles).
Significantly, when the time came to figure out what GM would do in Australia post-Holden, former Holden boss and now GM President Mark Reuss would have undoubtedly played a role.
He voiced his support for GMSV when the Holden announcement was made: “We do believe we have an opportunity to profitably grow the specialty vehicle business and plan to work with our partner to do that.”
GMSV is expected to be a joint venture between Walkinshaw Group and GM and its task initially will be exactly what HSV does now; take North American-built, left-hand-drive GM product and convert it to right-hand drive in Melbourne.
Those vehicles will then be distributed through a revised, slimmed-down dealer network. Currently, HSV has 56 dealers nationwide.
GMSV’s focus will initially be on Chevrolet pick-ups, SUVs and performance vehicles. The new mid-engine C8 Chevrolet Corvette is expected to be part of the line-up.
There’s the capability at Walkinshaw Park to remanufacture more than 10,000 vehicles a year, but Walkinshaw Group CEO Tim Jackson warned that every potential future product sits on the negotiation list right now.
“In our view our range continues, but what form that takes and the point at which it brings in new model years, and that sort of thing; that conversation is wrapped up in a lot of our discussions with GM.”
One thing to realise is that these vehicles are not going to be cheap. Importing them fully built from North America, stripping them down, converting them and then rebuilding them adds a heck of a lot of cost.
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Throw in the poor exchange rates that importers currently face and the whole thing gets a bit knife-edge.
The most obvious example of that is the Camaro. Jackson says there are no plans to remanufacture any more than the last few supercharged ZL1s that have now ceased local production.
Clearly, the hope from the Australian side is that GM will provide some assistance on purchasing costs so the Camaro can be part of the line-up.
“We are working with them [GM] on what the new world might look like,” said Jackson.
The announcement of HSV’s transformation into GMSV is expected to be imminent. However, with the global COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has become fluid, potentially delaying plans for the official rebranding.
One thing’s for certain: HSV is going to look very different.
Can the Camaro make the grid?
Complicating the future of the Camaro in Australia is the push to make it the replacement for the Holden ZB Commodore in Supercars racing.
The Walkinshaw Andretti United racing team – in which the Walkinshaw family has a share, along with Michael Andretti and Zak Brown’s United Autosports – has researched the development of a Supercar based on the Camaro exterior.
It says it can’t retain its visual integrity without modification to the roll-hoop; otherwise you end up with a humpy version caricature. Think what the Ford Mustang Supercar looks like compared to the road car.
So, getting the rules changed is one challenge; the other is who would control the homologation program for the car.
Back in the good old days, the Walkinshaws ran the Holden Racing Team and ruled the Supercars world. But they were gradually usurped by Roland Dane’s Triple Eight Race Engineering, to the point the Queensland team took over the whole Holden factory deal.
Do the people who build the road car and have done the groundwork on the race car get the gig? Or does it go to the operation that has proved itself the best in the Supercars business and delivered for GM time and again?
Update: GMSV page appears on Facebook
A page claiming to be an officially 'licenced' (sic) retailer of GMSV merchandise has appeared on Facebook, with a link to a website and using imagery of a Camaro ZL1 to generate interest.
The page appears to have caught many off-guard with comments from users treating the page as legitimately associated with GM, Walkinshaw, or HSV.
But a spokesperson for HSV says the owner of this page has "absolutely no affiliation" with Walkinshaw Group or GM.
The page, created on May 13, has made no effort to distance itself from HSV or GM. -Chris Thompson