“HIS legacy and contribution to the automotive industry cannot be understated, the Australian Automotive industry has lost a great friend”. So reads the final line in an obituary notice for Robert James McEniry, posted by GM Holden today.
McEniry, a veteran senior executive of Holden, then Mitsubishi, played a vital role in the development of Australia’s car-making industry.
Having cut his product planning teeth on the VN Commodore as Program Manager, at Holden McEniry was instrumental in keeping the Commodore rear-driven at a time when General Motors was transitioning heavily to transverse-engined underpinnings.
He also laid the foundations for the Commodore’s first – and last – truly indigenous architecture, the Zeta platform.
His impact on rear-drive cars from The General went beyond our borders too – the development of GM’s Sigma platform, which sat underneath Cadillac’s sportier offerings like the CTS, fell under his purview when he was a GM Vehicle Line Executive in the late 1990s.
Back then Holden was still in rude health, with a hefty share of the local market. Nevertheless, McEniry could see the writing was on the wall – future survival lay in adopting a global approach.
In 1998 he told Wheels that “Holden has to become more international. It can’t rely totally on the domestic market for its future volume base… we need to be bigger and planning internationally.”
Sadly, meaty export programs for the Zeta-platformed Commodores never materialised – relative handfuls of exports to the Middle East and the USA weren’t enough to boost production volumes and profits, and the rest is history.
In 2005, McEniry made the move from Holden to Mitsubishi Australia, where he presided over another local manufacturing operation on the hunt for export success. Again, despite pitching the locally-assembled 380 sedan to Mitsubishi’s global network, factors outside of McEniry’s control saw the export potential of that car evaporate. He then had the unenviable task of shutting down the Japanese company’s local plant in Tonsley Park, SA.
Throughout his career McEniry had a reputation for being not only an astute problem-solver, but was also well-liked by colleagues and the media – qualities not universally enjoyed by executive-level staff. He will be missed.