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ASV looks to GM for next big move

Right on: Chevrolet’s big Silverado pick-up is the sort of vehicle that American Special Vehicles might look to add to its right-hand-drive conversion operation in Australia under a GM relationship.

Beyond Ram, the Walkinshaw-Ateco partnership hopes for a GM RHD deal

6 Jul 2016

HOLDEN Special Vehicle’s on-going relationship with General Motors beyond the expiration of Australian Commodore manufacturing next year looks set to open the door for HSV sister company American Special Vehicles (ASV) to chase right-hand-drive vehicle conversion opportunities with GM in the United States.

As GoAuto reported in May, HSV says it is confident it can build a business case to continue its local vehicle enhancement operation based on GM Holden's next-generation Commodore – thought to be the next-generation Insignia imported from Germany – due in 2018.

Over at ASV, executives are keen to leverage this factory relationship to add vehicles from GM brands such as Chevrolet, GMC or Buick to its portfolio of locally converted vehicles, not just for Australia but also export markets.

Currently, the joint venture between Walkinshaw Automotive Group and importer Ateco Automotive does factory backed RHD conversions of Mexican-built Ram 2500 and 3500 full-sized pick-ups for Australia, New Zealand and – in future – export markets such as South Africa and Asia-Pacific.

Another Ram pick-up, the smaller 1500, is also on the cards (see separate report), as well as an unidentified SUV from Ram parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in North America.

Ateco’s relationship with FCA via the Chrysler-Jeep distribution business in New Zealand was key to the ASV Ram conversion deal, particularly the direct factory supply of vehicles at wholesale prices.

But as the American Special Vehicles name implies, Walkinshaw and Ateco are not planning to limit their operation to one brand.

As GoAuto reported when the RHD Ram range was unveiled in Melbourne in December, other manufacturers are watching the ASV Ram experiment with interest, potentially with the purpose of getting the Melbourne-based engineering and manufacturing operation to provide a similar service for small-volume vehicles.

So far, those manufacturers have not been identified, but GoAuto understands the 19-year relationship between HSV and GM via Holden makes Chevrolet or GMC products an obvious choice.

These could include GM’s big-selling Silverado pick-up – a direct rival for Ram and Ford F-Series pickups – or GMC’s all-American trucks, the Canyon and Sierra.

SUVs such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Tahoe and Suburban, or GMC’s Arcadia and Yukon, might also lend themselves to RHD market conversion if the economics stack up.

GM passenger cars from North America might also be considered, with Chevrolet’s Camaro and Corvette potentially on the wish list, depending upon suitability. A possible North American replacement for the Commodore-based Chevrolet SS sports sedan might also be a consideration, to fill the gap in the market here.

Interestingly, GM has promised a rear-wheel-drive V8 sportscar for Holden’s line-up once it moves to an imported range, but so far there is no word on such a car in RHD form.

GM says the small volumes in RHD markets cannot justify the engineering and manufacturing cost of right-hook versions of most of its North American vehicles, especially those from factories geared to massive production volumes.

However, as ASV has demonstrated with its Ram operation, a niche exists for a RHD conversion operation armed with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) engineering skills and medium-scale manufacturing and distribution capabilities.

ASV has been keen to put its best foot forward on the Ram 2500/3500 RHD introduction, spending almost $5 million to re-engineer the vehicle and develop ground-up manufacturing processes to ensure factory quality, safety and full Australian Design Rule certification.

No other manufacturer has delved into such an RHD conversion operation on this scale.

For motor companies agonising over whether to include RHD specification in new models, this could be the solution – a nimble, flexible, quasi factory operation to keep RHD customers happy.

The ASV plant – in the old Nissan Australia factory, next door to the HSV production line – has a capacity of 1000 vehicles a year on the current set-up, with room for expansion beyond that.

An enthusiastic group of Australian component-makers facing a bleak future with the demise of the Big Three manufacturing here are also keen to step up.

The Ram conversion required 400 new locally designed and engineered parts, 70 per cent of which come from Australian parts suppliers.

So far, ASV is building Rams at the rate of three a day, with a full-year target in Australia of 500.

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