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Revealed: Holden's future plans included Cadillac EVs for Australia to take on the emerging Tesla electric car threat

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While Holden missed out with Cadillac in 2008 due to the GFC, it might have had a second chance with EV versions in the 2020s
While Holden missed out with Cadillac in 2008 due to the GFC, it might have had a second chance with EV versions in the 2020s

General Motors (GM) has revealed that Australia played an important role during the planning stages of its latest BEV3 electric vehicle (EV) architecture.

Dating back to 2015, it is understood that Holden – then still a volume player in this market – would have been in line to import one or more of the BEV3 models that, at the time, were Cadillac-led projects, starting with the Lyriq EV SUV just announced for Australia.

A Holden Caprice replacement for the 2020s? The burgeoning Cadillac EV portfolio as we see it today would certainly have fit the bill.

According to GM Cadillac Global Vice President, John Roth, it was a former Managing Director of Holden, and later GM Product Development Directors at the time of the BEV3's gestation in the middle of last decade, former engineer and now GM President Mark Reuss, who drove the development of right-hand-drive (RHD) compatibility for global consumption generally, and Australia in particular.

"It was a 2015 timeframe when Mark Reuss (and his team) all came together to really re-architect what the future of Cadillac was going to look like," he told CarsGuide at the Lyriq's Australian and NZ media announcement in Melbourne in mid-November.

"Not just in the US but around the globe, and really thinking differently as we step through the brands and what's the right progression."

Dating back to 2015, it is understood that Holden would have been in line to import one or more of the BEV3 models that, at the time, were Cadillac-led projects, starting with the Lyriq EV SUV just announced for Australia.
Dating back to 2015, it is understood that Holden would have been in line to import one or more of the BEV3 models that, at the time, were Cadillac-led projects, starting with the Lyriq EV SUV just announced for Australia.

The result is that all BEV3 vehicles – starting with the Cadillac Lyriq large SUV unveiled in 2022 and extending to the coming Celestiq luxury sedan flagship, Optiq mid-sized SUV and more – have the engineering basics in place for RHD.

Whether this also extends to the non-Cadillac BEV3 models, including Chevrolet's new Blazer EV, Equinox EV and next-generation Bolt crossover, as well as future Buick EVs and even the Honda Prologue EV SUV as part of a joint-venture program with GM, has not been confirmed.

This helps explain the urgency of getting the BEV3 architecture in RHD off the ground, ensuring accessibility for markets as diverse as Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

All BEV3 vehicles – starting with the Cadillac Lyriq large SUV unveiled in 2022 and extending to the coming Celestiq luxury sedan flagship, Optiq mid-sized SUV and more – have the engineering basics in place for RHD.
All BEV3 vehicles – starting with the Cadillac Lyriq large SUV unveiled in 2022 and extending to the coming Celestiq luxury sedan flagship, Optiq mid-sized SUV and more – have the engineering basics in place for RHD.

By the middle of last decade when GM was initiating its BEV3 roadmap, EVs had already started to gain momentum right in the middle of Cadillac's luxury heartland, with sales rising for the Tesla Model S flagship worldwide, including in Australia and the UK. Plus, Tesla's Model Y SUV was imminent, while rivals Porsche and Jaguar were flagging their intentions with the Mission E (later Taycan) and I-Pace concepts respectively.

"We've made announcements in Europe recently around left-hand-drive vehicles, and (Australia) is the first market to see RHD," Roth added. "Hence why the reason I'm here today, to show the commitment to Cadillac and to a global brand and be RHD."

GM Strategic Markets, Alliances and Distributors President and Managing Director, Ernesto Ortiz, added that GM has set Cadillac up as a global brand that's in it for the long run.

"This shows our commitment for the short, medium and long term, for all the global markets, and always including RHD countries," he said.

all BEV3 vehicles – starting with the Cadillac Lyriq large SUV unveiled in 2022 and extending to the coming Celestiq luxury sedan flagship, Optiq mid-sized SUV and more – have the engineering basics in place for RHD.
all BEV3 vehicles – starting with the Cadillac Lyriq large SUV unveiled in 2022 and extending to the coming Celestiq luxury sedan flagship, Optiq mid-sized SUV and more – have the engineering basics in place for RHD.

So, besides being an important recipient of the future GM BEV3 models, did Australia help shape the EVs in question?

While many ex-Holden people have worked on the design, engineering and marketing side of projects like the Lyriq since 2015, that's where the connection likely ends. RHD-aside, there won't be GM EVs unique to Australia.

According to GM Australia and NZ Managing Director, Jess Bala, there has been no specific local tuning or shakedown testing during development – at least concerning the Lyriq – though the Cadillac EV will undergo Australian homologation-related assessment in the coming months prior to its release here later in 2024.

"We do want to drive the vehicle here, have it exposed here, determine exactly what our range requirements are, our charging requirements and charging times and all those sorts of things, because a lot of that is environmental," the ex-Holden veteran told CarsGuide.

Reuss was also behind the Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV).
Reuss was also behind the Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV).

"But the vehicle was developed globally. When the engineering team started on the vehicle years ago, it was with the idea and aspiration and intent that it would be a global vehicle, and therefore would suit all markets it is going to from a driving standpoint."

Still, in this post-Holden era, and whether it is because of nostalgia or regret about how things turned out for the Lion brand, it would be reassuring to many people who have invested time or resources in GM in the past that there are senior members of management who still care for Australian consumers.

Holden's boss from February 1, 2008 to September 1, 2009, Mark Reuss' extraordinary support Australia during a time of extreme pressure could not be understated, having deftly steered Holden from almost certain calamity while GM lurched into Chapter 11 bankruptcy (alongside Chrysler LLC) in May, 2009.

Among other achievements during tumultuous uncertainty, he helped push through the local production of the 2011 Cruze small car facelift, alongside the Commodore and Caprice lines in Adelaide (the last remaining Holden factory), extending thousands of Australian jobs during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) both within and beyond the company through associated suppliers in the process, as sales of the larger models were in freefall.

Reuss was also  behind the VF Commodore SS (badged Chevrolet SS) export programs to the US.
Reuss was also behind the VF Commodore SS (badged Chevrolet SS) export programs to the US.

Reuss was also behind the Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV) as well as the VF Commodore SS (badged Chevrolet SS) export programs to the US, which in turn lead to a substantially more-sophisticated and advanced Holden VF series for Australians – a vehicle largely considered this country's best-ever locally made family car.

And, as his role in charge of product development, Reuss helped champion RHD for two SUVs that which, ultimately, came too late to save Holden – the Toyota RAV4-sized Equinox as well as the Kluger-rivalling Acadia.

Ironically, with the GFC in full swing and GM stumbling, it was Reuss who wisely saved Holden from launching the Cadillac CTS sports sedan as a rival to the big-selling BMW 3 Series at the 11th hour in early 2009, citing insurmountable difficulties.

Among other achievements during tumultuous uncertainty, he helped push through the local production of the 2011 Cruze small car facelift.
Among other achievements during tumultuous uncertainty, he helped push through the local production of the 2011 Cruze small car facelift.

"It's a tough announcement for me and the Holden team here today, but we've made the decision and direction in the last week or so that we're going to indefinitely delay the Cadillac introduction to Australia," he stated in January of that year.

"We only really had one chance to launch the brand here in Australia and … we just believe we couldn't give it the best chance that it deserves as our flagship brand in Australia at this time, given the situation both globally but also here in Australia."

Some peoples' reverence for Cadillac within Holden went way further back than the late 2000s.

It was Reuss who wisely saved Holden from launching the Cadillac CTS sports sedan as a rival to the big-selling BMW 3 Series at the 11th hour in early 2009, citing insurmountable difficulties.
It was Reuss who wisely saved Holden from launching the Cadillac CTS sports sedan as a rival to the big-selling BMW 3 Series at the 11th hour in early 2009, citing insurmountable difficulties.

Famously, Holden managed to gain the Cadillac ‘crest' for the then-all-new HQ Statesman (and later the Caprice) badge in 1971, despite reportedly facing massive resistance from within the American brand, as it sought to catch the runaway success of Australia's first successful luxury car, the Ford Fairlane.

Holden and Cadillac, it seemed, were never too far apart.

Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist
Byron started his motoring journalism career when he joined John Mellor in 1997 before becoming a freelance motoring writer two years later. He wrote for several motoring publications and was ABC Youth radio Triple J's "all things automotive" correspondent from 2001 to 2003. He rejoined John Mellor in early 2003 and has been with GoAutoMedia as a senior product and industry journalist ever since. With an eye for detail and a vast knowledge base of both new and used cars Byron lives and breathes motoring. His encyclopedic knowledge of cars was acquired from childhood by reading just about every issue of every car magazine ever to hit a newsstand in Australia. The child Byron was the consummate car spotter, devoured and collected anything written about cars that he could lay his hands on and by nine had driven more imaginary miles at the wheel of the family Ford Falcon in the driveway at home than many people drive in a lifetime. The teenage Byron filled in the agonising years leading up to getting his driver's license by reading the words of the leading motoring editors of the country and learning what they look for in a car and how to write it. In short, Byron loves cars and knows pretty much all there is to know about every vehicle released during his lifetime as well as most of the ones that were around before then.
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