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Holden’s next Colorado firms

Due for renewal: Holden's Colorado ute dates back to 2003 and the MkIII RA Rodeo.

GM joins Thailand manufacturing focus as Holden's next-generation Colorado shapes up

1 Jul 2010

US PATENT Office drawings of what could be GM Holden’s next-generation Colorado have emerged in North America, as more details emerge of the all-new utility General Motors is preparing to manufacture in Thailand.

Almost all of Australia’s Japanese-brand utes are already built in Thailand, which has a free-trade agreement with Australia, and GM is readying its own new-generation Thai-built Chevrolet pick-up to replace the Isuzu D-Max-based Colorado – Australia’s third best selling 4x4 ute.

Both the D-Max and GM’s near-identical Colorado are produced at separate factories in Thailand’s Rayong province, and GM has confirmed it will build its own new light truck in Thailand when its current assembly deal with Isuzu ends.

The D-Max was sold as Holden’s third-generation (RA) Rodeo in Australia and New Zealand, before a facelifted version dubbed the Colorado – a name also used for a larger GM pick-up sold in North and South America – was introduced here in 2008, after GM lost the right to use the Rodeo name following the split-up of GM-Isuzu.

The same year saw Isuzu Ute Australia set up shop to sell the Isuzu-branded D-Max here for the first time.

Now, GM’s Southeast Asian operations executive director Martin Apfel has told the Bloomberg news service that GM plans to build a new mid-sized Chevrolet truck in Thailand for export to Europe and parts of Southeast Asia, as part of a renewed manufacturing push in Asia.

Mr Apfel this week said GM expects to sell at least 100,000 units of the new truck in the first year, with global production of the vehicle concentrated in Thailand and Brazil.

“The logical consequence is to build where the customer wants it, as that keeps your costs down,” said Mr Apfel in Bangkok. Thailand and Brazil are “the two centres of gravity for mid-sized trucks,” he said.

Also this week, the US Patent Office issued GM with a design patent for what is clearly a small Chevrolet truck, which could be the replacement for both Australia’s Colorado one-tonner and America’s larger pick-up of the same name.

13 center imageThe patent documents – filed on November 23 last year - were uncovered by GMInsideNews, which reports that the majority of GM designers listed on the patent were based in Brazil, with two designers also listed from the Detroit area.

The line drawings in the design patent filing show a single-cab ute featuring styling cues consistent with both Asia’s and America’s current Colorados, as well as being similar to a vehicle snapped in March by US spy photographers who claimed it to be the 2012 Colorado.

GMIN said it expects Chevrolet’s next-generation Colorado to be produced at GM’s currently idled Spring Hill plant in Tennessee, where its sources have revealed that stamping die kits for a “new small truck” will arrive towards the end of the year for testing.

Chevrolet’s current Colorado and GMC Canyon are built in Shreveport, Louisiana, which will be vacated as part of GM’s June 2009 bankruptcy.

GM’s Thailand manufacturing focus will continue whether or not its Colorado badge appears on the same or different new vehicles in Asia and America.

GM currently makes the Chevrolet Aveo city-car and Colororado one-tonner at its 165-acre plant in Rayong, where production will be boosted to more than 80,000 vehicles this year – up from 39,800 in 2009.

Mr Apfel told Bloomberg that GM’s Rayong engine plant is now in its “last stages” of completion, but did not specify when production of the new utility would commence, or when GM’s deal to manufacture the D-Max-based Colorado in Thailand expires.

GM began building a new engine plant and upgrading its existing vehicle assembly operation in Rayong in 2008, following a $US445 million ($A532 million) investment. GM said in January that it received loans from three Thai banks to finance its expansion plans in Thailand.

GM’s first four-cylinder diesel engine facility in South East Asia will employ around 340 people, producing 100,000 engines emerges annually.

As with the 2.9-litre diesel V6 made by GM Daewoo in Korea, the Thai engines are a co-development with Italian diesel specialist VM Motori, and will be initially be produced in 2.5 and 2.8-litre capacities for a range of GM light commercial and SUV models.

GM is just one of many car-makers expanding its presence in Thailand, which has South East Asia’s second-biggest economy and a population of 67 million. Vehicle production there is reported to hit 1.6 million units this year – 60 per cent more than in 2009.

Ford last week announced it will build a new $US450 ($A538m) plant to produce the Focus in Thailand. Ford already produces the Fiesta in a joint-venture plant there with Mazda, but the first wholly-owned Ford plant in Thailand will lead to imports of better-value Focus and Fiesta models to Australia from this year. Ford’s new Rayong plant will open in 2012, with initial production capacity set at 150,000 vehicles.

While Honda and Toyota also have plants in Thailand that produce a range of models for Australia, almost all of GM Holden’s imported models come from GM Daewoo in Korea, in which Holden is a major shareholder.

Mr Apfel said GM is also working to reopen a factory in Indonesia within the next two years to produce a seven-seat vehicle for the domestic market. He said the GM plant in Bekasi near Jakarta has been idle for about five years and may produce as many as 50,000 vehicles per annum following a $US100 million ($A119.5m) investment.

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