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Chris Gubbey future of Holden


They are some of the questions, among others, many Australians who still buy the “local hero” tag Holden promotes, would like to be answered.

Unfortunately, we are going to have to be patient. GM Holden has put a bamboo curtain around its new chairman and managing director with all requests this week for access to the new boss ignored or deflected.

Like the four chairmen to precede him, the last Australian to sit at the helm of the “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars” company was John Bagshaw two decades ago, Gubbey is coming to a market he presumably will need to come to terms with.

A huge part of the challenge Gubbey faces is the adjustment from a market that is in its infancy and burgeoning with all the excitement of untapped potential to one where a key product, the Commodore, is struggling.

The official press release on Gubbey this week indicates he has been highly successful in his current role as executive vice-president of Shanghai General Motors, a 50-50 joint venture between GM and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Group (SAIC) founded in 1997.

Gubbey joined the group in 2000. Since then, the company has grown to be China's leader in passenger car sales with more than 400,000 units sold last year, offering everything from Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet to Saab nameplates.

Before joining Shanghai GM in 2000, Gubbey was manufacturing director and a member of the board of directors of Vauxhall Motors Ltd in the United Kingdom; from 1995 to 1997, he was operations director of engineering group GKN Hardy Spicer Ltd; between 1991 and 1995 he was assistant general manager of Toyota Motor UK Ltd and began his automotive industry career in 1979 with Ford where he held the positions of assembly manager and process engineering manager.

He has a bachelor of science degree (with honours) in production engineering from Hatfield Polytechnic in the UK and is an honorary citizen of both Shanghai Municipality and Yantai, Shandong.

What does that all mean for us?

It is all speculation at the moment, but it does showcase a more diverse career portfolio than incumbent chairman Denny Mooney as Gubbey has wider experience in marketing and market management than the man he replaces, who came to Holden with a passionate and knowledgeable engineering background.

It is also no accident Gubbey is coming to Holden from the market with the world's largest potential for exporters. Conversely, it is also potentially one of the richest sources of foreign-manufactured models on which to slap a Holden badge, or at least, a GM badge.

The Daewoo experience has proven, if nothing else, that if it can be launched at the right price and decorated with the Holden Lion, Australians will buy it.

Just what GM Holden might bring out of China is questionable. However, what GM itself may send to Australia from Gubbey's current base is well worth asking.

Mooney has often spoken of the potential for Cadillac in Australia as a premium brand. It has always been assumed that Cadillacs would be sourced out of North America.

GM's Shanghai operation is, or at least soon will be, producing and assembling Cadillacs for the Chinese market, including a longer wheelbase version of the STS, a CTS sedan and the SRX crossover vehicle.

At least two out of three of those would be attractive to an emerging Cadillac presence in Australia.

With Australian-made engines flowing to China in increasing numbers, ever-improving trade agreements and the economy of scale possible out of a market that will soon be a world leader, the possibilities are intriguing.

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