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Commodore fate hangs in balance

SOS: A campaign has been launched by the peak body representing Australian engineers to ‘Save our Commodore’ after claims that job losses at Holden are imminent.

Fears for Holden engineering cutbacks early next year as Commodore future unfolds

3 Nov 2011

GM HOLDEN is considering a plan to develop its 2018 Commodore largely offshore in a move that could see up to 350 jobs cut as early as the first quarter of next year, according to the peak body representing Australian engineers.

As Ford deliberates over the future of its Australian Falcon – including a switch to a global front-wheel-drive platform and a vehicle largely designed and engineered overseas – Holden’s decision could similarly herald the forthcoming 2014 VF as the last Commodore to be engineered in Australia.

The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA) this week launched a ‘Save our Commodore’ campaign after emerging from enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiations with Holden management with the claim that the end-of-decade Commodore is “likely to be replaced with a medium front-wheel (drive) car designed and largely produced overseas”.

GM Holden has confirmed to GoAuto that a number of options for the model are still on the table but that there is no absolute deadline on when a decision will be reached – although the company acknowledges that this should be taken soon, hence the current negotiations with unions and other key bodies.

“This is still to be negotiated, decisions still have to be made on this, so there is nothing to confirm or deny,” said GM Holden senior manager of product communications Kate Lonsdale.

Ms Lonsdale said Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux had put to unions and employees “a range of options” on the future Commodore architecture but said “these decisions certainly haven’t been made yet”.

13 center imageLeft: Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux. Below: Holden Commodore variants.

“The fact is, we’ve publicly said that we’re looking at a number of options for the future of Commodore,” Ms Lonsdale said.

“There isn’t a deadline on this, so no decision has been made as yet, but we need to make some decisions – and some of these will be tough decisions about Commodore, and what our engineers and designers will work on.

“While we are absolutely committed to manufacturing in Australia, it’s critical that our business cases are profitable, first and foremost, and for that to occur we need to have cooperation across all the key stakeholders, including company, employees, unions, governments.

“We’ve got to take into account all those factors to define what is best for Holden and for General Motors moving forward.” Mr Devereux told GoAuto in January that a decision on the vehicle architecture underpinning the generation-after-next Commodore due from 2018 – which he has acknowledged could be front-wheel drive – would be made “in the next 12 months”, which indicates that the final call is about to be made.

APESMA media and marketing manager Matt Nurse told GoAuto a decision was “imminent” and that it would be implemented early next year, meaning engineering and jobs were expected to be cut at that time.

“This revelation really is irrelevant to the EBA discussions,” said Mr Nurse.

“I know that Holden has said that they are somehow linked, (but) I can’t see how they are. We’re talking about whether or not these guys have jobs, not how much they’re getting paid.

“What we’ve been told by Holden is that ... the decision will be made in the next month or two and then implemented in the first quarter of next year. So it’s actually quite imminent from that point of view.

“They’re telling us that it will be highly likely that it will be engineered overseas, but they haven’t said that publicly – and they haven’t denied it, either.” Ms Lonsdale said she had no knowledge of a decision that could see engineering and design jobs cut early next year.

“Ultimately, the market will shape what we produce and how we produce them, so there are lots of factors that will influence the shape of the organisation in the future,” she said. “But as far as specifics are concerned ... I wouldn’t be able to confirm that at all.” Mr Devereux hit the airwaves today attacking APESMA’s disclosures from “confidential conversations” and tactics that “frankly slander what is a proud Australian brand” – just days after Qantas management grounded its entire fleet of aircraft in a bid to break ongoing industrial action over concerns that Australian jobs were being moved offshore.

In a statement, APESMA CEO Chris Walton said Holden management had told him it was “highly likely” the 2014 Commodore would be the last one entirely engineered in Australia.

“The Commodore is Australia’s most popular car because it is engineered by Australians for Australian conditions,” Mr Walton said.

“Holden has chosen not to tell the public about its plans to stop engineering the Commodore in Australia after 2014.

“Australians want their Commodore designed and built here. They don’t want to just bolt together a car engineered and largely produced in China, the USA or Korea.

“Despite hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money from state and federal governments, it seems that this could be the end of the Commodore as we know it.

“The Commodore is likely to be replaced with a medium front-wheel (drive) car designed and largely produced overseas.

“If that occurs, there are major consequences for the related manufacturing industry and it’s only a matter of time before Holden decides to send the whole business overseas.

“We are calling on the Australian community to get behind our campaign and help to convince Holden to save our Commodore. We want to engineer and produce our Commodore here.” Mr Devereux told ABC local radio that the “model year 2014 Commodore” – the VF, which will remain built off the current rear-drive ‘Zeta’ platform and will benefit from $39.8 million in federal government funding (not to mention millions more given to Holden suppliers) – will have a “multi-year life and I’m quite confused as to the tactics being taken to frankly slander what is a proud Australian brand”.

“The things we are talking to the union about are things that are near the end of this decade – many years from now – and frankly they’re confidential conversations that we’re supposed to have in the course of bargaining with our union,” he said.

Mr Devereux would not be drawn on whether Commodore would move to a global architecture in future, but said: “It is difficult today to continue to manufacture things in Australia with the economic and political climate that we’ve got.

“We at Holden fight every single day for the right to continue to do the three things that we do here, which is one of only 13 countries that does this stuff – and that’s to design, engineer and build cars. So that’s what we are working hard to do.” Federal industry minister Kim Carr told ABC radio today that the capital-intensive nature of the automotive industry meant that “decisions are made on a long-term basis” but he could not comment on whether the Commodore beyond the 2014 VF model would be engineered in Australia.

APESMA’s Mr Nurse told GoAuto: “Rumours are all over the place, that it will be a front-wheel-drive, a medium car, that it will be engineered overseas – whether that’s China or the USA or Korea, that’s up to Holden to decide, I guess – but it won’t be done at Port Melbourne.” As previously reported, Mr Devereux, who is also the president of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, warned in June that the federal government’s decision to axe the Green Car Innovation Fund threatened the industry’s long-term viability here.

In August, General Motors announced it would slash the number of its platforms by more than half as it rationalises the current 30 architectures – two-thirds of them regional models – to reduce complexity, improve products and save up to $1 billion a year in engineering costs.

There was no indication of medium-large sedan drivetrain layout in the plan from 2018, although overseas reports have indicated that at least one large rear-drive passenger car architecture will survive to underpin key Cadillac and Chevrolet vehicles, including the Camaro muscle-car currently built off the Holden-developed Zeta platform.

Holden said this week it could not comment on whether its position as GM’s global centre for rear-wheel-drive vehicles would continue beyond the 2014 Commodore.

This year, Holden has had to contend with Commodore battling with the imported Mazda3 to maintain its position as Australia’s top-selling car.

To the end of September, Commodore sales were down 7.6 per cent to 31,977 units – just 538 units clear of the Mazda small car. October new-vehicle sales are due for release tomorrow.

Furthermore, the increasing popularity of Holden’s Cruze small car could next year see Commodore lose its status as the biggest-selling Australian-built car to a GM vehicle that was largely designed – with the exception of the hatchback launched this month – and engineered overseas.

More details on APESMA’s campaign can be found on: www.saveourcommodore.com.

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