A Belgian man could save the Holden Commodore
The Commodore, for those unfamiliar, is a large rear-drive sedan (and other derivatives) that forms the core of the range for Holden, GM's Australian subsidiary. It has also bred coupes, wagons, and pickup ute body-styles – not only for Holden to sell domestically, but also for GM's other brands around the world, including Chevrolet, Pontiac, Vauxhall, and Opel. The Chevy SS? That's based on the Commodore. So is the Caprice police cruiser. The Pontiac G8 and GTO were, too. Chevy based the previous-generation Camaro on the Commodore's Zeta platform as well, before switching to the newer Alpha architecture with the new model.
Two years ago, GM announced that it would shutter its plant in Elizabeth in 2017. The plan is to replace the rear-drive Commodore built in Australia with a front-drive sedan to be imported from elsewhere, killing the big rear-drive model and effectively turning Holden from an automaker into a badge-engineering importer. That's bad news for the automobile industry in Australia, which will soon see Ford and Toyota shut down their plants there as well.
That's where Dumarey comes in. The Belgian investor has a history of taking over ailing businesses, among them BBS wheels, the Still forklift factory in northern France, and most pertinently, GM's transmission factory in Strassbourg. Along with ZF and BMW, Dumarey's plant – now known as Punch Powertrains – supplies the gearboxes for six-cylinder Commodores, and now he's looking to do the same with Holden.
The plan is to acquire the Elizabeth plant where Holden builds the Commodore, as well as the rights to continue building it there. The undertaking is known internally as Project Erich, in reference to a Commodore tuner in Germany, and would need to be sealed within the next half-year ahead, well before Holden starts winding down production. The first step will be to secure government backing, for which he has already won the support of local lawmaker Nick Xenophon, who is keen to keep those jobs in his state of South Australia.
Once government support is secured, Dumarey plans to present his proposal to GM. His idea is to repackage the Commodore and its platform-mates under a new name, positioning the reworked sedan as a premium model for both local consumption and for export, and the ute version as a light commercial vehicle. If the project proves successful, Dumarey hopes that Toyota may reverse its decision and keep its plant open as well. But he may face a difficult battle ahead.
Recent history has seen other efforts to take over lines that GM was done with, but few have managed to get up and running. The proposed Penske takeover of the Saturn brand never came to pass. A major dealer similarly proposed taking over the Pontiac brand, but didn't manage to convince GM of the idea. Saab's resuscitation is still up in the air. AM General is still building Humvees as kit cars (or trucks), but on a much more limited basis compared to the volume it was handling for GM under the Hummer brand. And plans to continue building the Pontiac Solstice after the brand was shuttered came to naught.
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