General Motors has given Wheels unprecedented access to its Australian design operations in a bid to convince Australia it has a future beyond the end of local car manufacturing in 2017.
“We’re here to stay for the long term,” studio boss and vice-president of GM International Design Mike Simcoe told Wheels and a select group of media.
“It’s important that we get this message out, that people hear this – both outside General Motors and within … We have a strong future … The doubt that everyone has is ill-founded. We are not going anywhere.”
During an extensive tour of General Motors’ Australian design operations, Simcoe told Wheels the future of the studio – one of 10 GM design studios around the world – had been questioned repeatedly since GM announced manufacturing would cease in 2017.
“Why should Holden Design still exist? Why invest in a design facility so far from the mothership [in Detroit]? We were constantly fielding these questions.”
At its peak in the 2000s the studio employed 250 people. Today that number is about 140 and, while that number is not likely to grow, Simcoe said “the future is secure”.
He said the message that GMA Design has “support from GM leadership” is important on a number of levels.
“Yes, my guys need to hear that, but so does the public. It’s important that Australians are aware we as a country are still contributing to the automotive industry on a global level.
“It’s also important that schoolkids know there is a future for them as automotive engineers and designers in this country.
“This year is the 50th anniversary of the Port Melbourne-based Holden Design Studio.
“Today, this studio delivers. It is a very capable studio, one of the most mature in the region and in the GM world.
“It has been a breeding ground for some of the best design talent in the GM world. Many designers that have passed through here now carry huge influence in North America … And dollar for dollar we are one of the most effective design centres in the GM world.”
Simcoe said GM’s new boss, Mary Barra, had pledged her support to the operation. He said she would visit soon, but declined to say when. “She’s a busy lady (but) we have her full support.”
GM’s Australian design studio is currently headed by Richard Ferlazzo, the father of the striking Efijy concept.
It is one of only two studios in the GM world with the capability to take a concept from sketch to full-size reality in-house.
The first car to emerge from the studio, which opened in 1964, was the HD Holden in 1966.
Among the studio’s biggest critical successes are the 2006 VE Commodore and 2002 Monaro. It also took a lead role in designing the Chevrolet Camaro and Cruze for international markets.
GMA Design will continue to play a design role primarily in cars for China, India and North America.