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Friends in high places add momentum to Holden's plan to launch Hummer in Australia

21 Mar 2006

THIS month’s appointment of former Holden heavyweight Megan Stooke to the position of global marketing director for Hummer has added momentum to a plan to officially introduce the iconic General Motors brand in Australia as early as next year.

GM Holden admits Ms Stooke will be a valuable ally in its desire to launch Hummer in Australia, but cautions that fundamental infrastructure issues need to be finalised before Fishermen’s Bend confirms a business case for the US off-road brand here.

Australia was named by GM as an export market for the ‘baby’ Hummer H3 in April last year, when it announced a plan to invest more than $US100 million to assemble both right-hand drive and LHD Hummer H3s at GM’s Struandale plant at Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

But Holden maintains that does not constitute the announcement of a Hummer export program for Australia, and says the issue of a retail network for the brand remains a stumbling block.

59 center image"We obviously we need to look at how we might manage distribution ... the dealer network – whether we sell them through Holden dealers or something stand-alone and the infrastructure that goes with that," Holden corporate communications manager Jason Laird told GoAuto.

"We’ve been saying for some time we’re interested in the possibility of it.

"We’re looking at it but there’s nothing to confirm right now," said Mr Laird, who acknowledged Ms Stooke’s new association with Hummer could prove beneficial.

"We’ve obviously now got someone in there with an understanding of the Australian environment, so it’s certainly a bonus to have Megan there," he said.

A former Holden export and marketing director, Ms Stooke has been on assignment in the US since last May, when she assumed a role with Chevrolet.

She was most recently the director of advertising and sales promotion for that brand and in her new role as global director of marketing for Hummer will report to divisional general manager for Hummer, Martin Walsh.

Mr Laird was quick to point out that while Hummer could well fill a low-volume yet profitable market niche for Holden, Ms Stooke’s involvement in the brand "doesn’t solve some of the practical issues like infrastructure and product availability".

The latter issue should be resolved by this time next year, with South African production of the smallest and most suitable Hummer, the H3, is due to reach full capacity.

Holden remains adamant there is no confirmed Hummer program for Australia, but says the H3 would be central to any potential brand launch.

"Without giving any indications on future product plans for Hummer, H3 would be the most logical way to introduce the brand if it were to go ahead, because it’s actually very similar in dimension to the Toyota LandCruiser," said Mr Laird.

Revealed at the California International Auto Show in October 2004, the H3 is slightly shorter and narrower than Toyota’s top-selling large SUV and rides on 2842mm wheelbase – just 8mm shorter than LandCruiser’s.

The mid-sized H3 is powered by a 3.5-litre turbocharged DOHC Vortec inline five-cylinder petrol engine that produces 260kW and 474Nm, and slightly lighter than LandCruiser at 2109kg.

Currently converted to left-hand drive and sold locally in limited numbers by a Queensland-based importer, the H3 will become available in right-hand drive from the South African factory next year.

According to GM’s 2005 statement, a diesel engine – as well as manual and automatic transmissions and a premium, full-time 4WD system with stability control and a locking rear differential – will also become available.

"Right-hand drive versions (of the H3) will be exported to markets such as the United Kingdom, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and other Asian markets," said GM’s April 2005 statement.

Along with making its clear the H3 would be sold in both Australia and New Zealand, the GM statement released almost 12 months ago said the factory was expected to build more than 10,000 H3s annually as a key plank in Hummer’s ambition to become a global brand.

Holden is less forthcoming about the H3’s specification should it be officially imported, or whether the Hummer brand would be viable with just one model.

"They are all the things we need to look through," said Mr Laird.

"It’s a similar discussion in some respects to the consideration around Cadillac. At what point does the brand become sustainable, and in what number of products or model variants – they are active questions that we’re looking at."Mr Laird told GoAuto last April: "It’s one thing to say you want a brand but another to actually fill that with some choice across the range. There is a lot more to establishing a export program than having one vehicle available to you."In late 2004, GM product planning boss Bob Lutz told GoAuto the full Hummer brand – including the original large H1, the H2 and H3 – had strong potential in Australia.

Left-hand drive H3 production began last year at GM’s Shreveport, Louisiana plant in the US, which supplies North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Production in Port Elizabeth will focus on re-engineering the car for right-hand drive markets from late this year.

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