Proving a negative




T HE NEWS THAT General Motors was calling time on Holden’s design and engineering facilities came as a shock. While the closure of Holden dealerships and the retiring of the badge were not entirely unforeseen, many industry insiders felt the design studios and proving ground would escape the axe, as they retained a relevance within General Motors that strecthed beyond merely Holden’s wares.

Sadly, that’s not the case, and the 877-hectare Lang Lang proving ground has attracted a number of interested parties. One of the most obvious names in the frame is Lindsay Fox, who already owns the 1141-hectare vehicle assessment facility at Anglesea, 125km south-west of Melbourne. This caters for OEM development with Toyota, Rheinmetall, Bosch, Volvo Trucks and many others.

Adding Lang Lang to the portfolio would not only create a revenue opportunity for vehicle brands and automotive engineering companies, but would also deliver a site for customer drive experiences en route to another Fox property: Phillip Island circuit. Thus far, Fox has not been invited to review the facilities at Lang Lang but the company is said to be interested in any opportunities that arise.

Holden has operated Lang Lang since 1957 and Fox made a bid for the facility in 2013, when the Lion brand announced it was ceasing local production. At the time, the site was valued at more than $20 million, but since then it has enjoyed a $15.9 million renovation of many of the test facilities.

Buyers will get a 44km network of sealed and unsealed roads, which includes the famous 4.7km banked oval, a 5.5km ride and handling course, a 1.8km noise testing stretch with ‘rumble strips’ and tram lines, and a 100-metre-diameter skidpan. There are also off-road test facilities, deep water splashes and a ‘rattle and squeak’ road. An emissions lab and crash-testing sled are also on site.

Vietnamese startup VinFast, which is rapidly recruiting ex-Holden staff at its engineering centre in Port Melbourne, is also said to be interested in the purchase of Lang Lang. “We are interested in any type of vertical integration that makes us more efficient and the business more cost effective,” said VinFast CEO Jim DeLuca when questioned about acquisition of GM’s local assets, including Lang Lang.

The multinational Vingroup certainly isn’t short of funds. It has already invested more than $3.5 billion in VinFast, and plans to launch in the USA next year. It’s also working on a GM-sourced 6.2-litre V8-powered version of its BMW X5-chassised, Pininfarina-styled LUX SA2.0 SUV, which would certainly pique the interest of ex-Holden engineers.

But Lang Lang is more than just mere real estate. There’s a body of experienced staff on hand that number around 120, dependent on programs, and Wheels’ on-site contact for a number of years has been specialist vehicle development engineer Henry Weinlich. “I can’t really comment on anything at this stage,” he said. “There have been rumours of VinFast, of Lindsay Fox, of real estate [development], but I’m in the dark.” Indeed, a Fox spokesman noted that Holden’s initial focus was on its staff rather than its real estate.

We do know that all global engineering calibration programs will be handed over to overseas operations by August, which fast-tracks the sales process into a five-month window. Lang Lang, it seems, doesn’t have the luxury of time.