The rebirth of HSV

THE END OF HOLDEN HERALDS THE START OF A WHOLE NEW CHAPTER FOR THIS ICONIC AUSSIE OUTFIT

BRUCE NEWTON

HOLDEN IS GONE but its parent, General Motors, will live on in Australia.

In a deal that could be announced by the time you are reading this, the Walkinshaw Group is expected to represent GM in Australia.

The plan was flagged when the axing of Holden was announced on February 17, with references made to GM Specialty Vehicles (GMSV) in a media release and a press conference.

“Although it’s not firmed up formally, our intent and desire is to stay in the market, albeit in a different format and a different model with the GM Specialty Vehicles,” GM International Operations Senior Vice-President Julian Blissett told the media.

While the Walkinshaw Group wasn’t named specifically, the company itself and the family it’s named after have deep ties to both Holden and GM.

The late Tom Walkinshaw created Holden Special Vehicles and took over the brand’s touring car efforts after Holden’s polariser split with Peter Brock. Walkinshaw’s Australian lieutenant John Crennan built the road and racing business into an amazingly successful enterprise.

In more recent times, since the closure of local manufacturing in 2017, Tom’s son Ryan Walkinshaw has led the evolution of HSV into a converter (or remanufacturer) of left-hand-drive GM products to right-hand drive.

So far it’s converted several different models of the Chevrolet Silverado pick-up as well as the Camaro V8 coupe. It also converts Ram trucks under contract for Neville Crichton’s ASV (American Special Vehicles).

Significantly, when the time came to figure out what GM would do in Australia post-Holden, former Holden boss and now GM President Mark Reuss would have undoubtedly played a role. He voiced his support for GMSV when the Holden announcement was made: “We do believe we have an opportunity to profitably grow the specialty vehicle business and plan to work with our partner to do that.”

GMSV is expected to be a joint venture between Walkinshaw Group and GM and its task initially will be exactly what HSV does now; take North American-built, left-hand-drive GM product and convert it to right-hand drive in Melbourne. Those vehicles will then be distributed through a revised, slimmed-down dealer network. Currently, HSV has 56 dealers nationwide.

GMSV’s focus will initially be on Chevrolet pick-ups, SUVs and performance vehicles. The new midengined C8 Chevrolet Corvette is expected to be part of the line-up.

General Motors Speciality Vehicles is expected to be a joint venture between Walkinshaw Group and GM

There’s the capability at Walkinshaw Park to remanufacture more than 10,000 vehicles a year, but Walkinshaw Group CEO Tim Jackson warned that every potential future product sits on the negotiation list right now.

“In our view our range continues, but what form that takes and the point at which it brings in new model years, and that sort of thing; that conversation is wrapped up in a lot of our discussions with GM.” 

One thing to realise is that these vehicles are not going to be cheap. Importing them fully built from North America, stripping them down, converting them and then rebuilding i them adds a heck of a lot of cost.

Throw in the poor exchange rates that importers currently face and the whole thing gets a bit knife-edge.e.

The most obvious example of that is the Camaro. Jackson says there are no plans to remanufacture any more than that the last few supercharged ZL1s are going down the line now.

Clearly, the hope from the Australian side is that GM will provide some assistance on purchasing costs so the Camaro can be part of the line-up.

“We are working with them [GM] on what the new world might look like,” said Jackson.

One thing’s for certain: it’s going to look very different… 

BRUCE NEWTON