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The calm after the storm

By Bruce Newton, 04 Jun 2009 Industry

The calm after the storm

Holden's American-born boss steps up to the plate swinging at the official Holden media briefing at Fisherman's Bend this morning. <i>Wheels</i>' Bruce Newton reports.

If he was a cricketer, Holden boss Mark Reuss would spend a lot of time striding onto the front foot. That's certainly what he was doing today as the news broke that parent General Motors had entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy for restructure.

Adopting his most confident stance, he made it clear to the media:

- As a separate corporate entity Holden wasn't being dragged under by GM, but it was an integral part of the structure of the 'New GM' that would emerge from the US court-supervised restructure.

- Holden itself was not in hock, that Chapter 11 would have "no impact" on Holden's dealers, suppliers and customers.

- As an employee of GM all his adult life, he welcomed the opportunity for the company his father Lloyd once presided over to clear the decks of its unwanted liabilities and start again.

So all good then? Well, yes and no.

Think of Reuss as the opening batsman for a team that has been forced to follow on after a first innings collapse. He might have the runs on the board but plenty of his mates have dropped the ball.

So while Holden in isolation looks good, debt-free and with the capability of designing, developing and building new cars from scratch. It is now wedded to a process that is only just starting a new phase, not nearing its completion.

If the US government sticks to its commitment, if this massive, complex restructure is completed, if the 'New GM' actually does what it says it will do when it emerges... If, if, if.

If not, then Holden's future is murky to say the least. The sell-off that has been avoided this time might well become inevitable.

And even if the hurdles are cleared, Holden still faces the pressures that were bearing down on vehicle manufacturing in Australia before the GFC struck and GM collapsed.

Holden is certainly doing its best to survive. It has developed a world-class rear-wheel drive architecture, plans dramatic fuel economy improvements for Commodore and a small car based on the Delta architecture will be rolling out of the Elizabeth assembly plant late next year. In addition, there is strong financial support for the car industry from Canberra.

There's no doubt Reuss and his team at Holden need to strap their helmets on tight and prepare for a torrid session on a sticky wicket. Victory isn't in sight yet, it's still all about saving the game.