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Holden design studio to stay once car factory closes


THE global boss of General Motors, Mary Barra, has thrown a lifeline to Holden's design centre, securing its future and the jobs of 140 car designers once manufacturing comes to an end in 2017 -- and GM's first female CEO is expected to visit the facility within the next 12 months.

Mary Barra's senior staff have told Holden executives that the company's design centre in Port Melbourne, which turns 50 this year, will be used to style cars for North America, China, India and the rest of the world.

The Holden design facility is one of just 10 studios owned by General Motors globally and has already created the iconic Camaro sold in the US and the Cruze hatch sold internationally as a Chevrolet, among other models not yet on sale.

The future of the Holden design centre, which has created every locally-made Holden since the 1966 HD (the Holden's sold before then, including the original 1948 'FX', were designed in the US) was under a cloud in the wake of the factory shutdown announcement.

"We have support from GM leadership," said former Holden design boss Mike Simcoe, who is now Vice President of GM international design.

"Mary Barra supports Holden design," said Mr Simcoe, during a rare behind-the-scenes media event at Holden's design centre. "When she was in charge of product development (before she became CEO) she agreed this studio should continue.

"I can't give you the quote because I can't speak for her, but she was very specific about keeping this place alive." Mr Simcoe said Mary Barra would likely visit Holden but would not speculate when.

Mary Barra is currently facing a US senate inquiry into GM's handling of the recall of 4.8 million vehicles said to have a faulty ignition switch, and which is being blamed for accidents that resulted in 13 deaths.

Mr Simcoe said it would be some time before a Mary Barra would visit Australia "with her just taking over the company and some of the stuff that's happening over there right now". Mr Simcoe added: "I was unsure about the future (after the manufacturing shutdown announcement). But I can honestly tell the guys who work for me there is no issue."

At its peak in the early 2000s, when Holden was developing the VE Commodore, the company hired 250 designers, but has about 140 now working on mostly foreign projects "It's expensive to make things in this country but it's not expensive to design them," said Holden design Richard Ferlazzo.

Mr Simcoe said Australia had a wealth of design talent because "we have more car brands on sale in Australia than most other countries, so the people who work here get exposed to more brands, from the cheapest to the dearest".

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling