DETROIT - General Motors may follow the Pontiac GTO with another vehicle drawn from its Australian subsidiary, Holden Ltd.
Peter Hanenberger, Holden chairman, says that if GM's plan to import restyled Holden Monaros as GTOs in 2003 goes well, Holden's V/W platform could spawn another rear-wheel-drive car for North America.
If it does, it would fuel the growing sense that Holden is becoming a role model within GM. Its lean, profitable operations and its popular rwd cars are creating a buzz at GM's Detroit headquarters.
Holden also has achieved a GM goal: net income of at least 5 percent of revenues. Holden hit 5.1 percent in 2000, the most recent year for which results are available, with $127.1 million net income on $2.52 billion in revenues.
GM North America's net income was only 2.2 percent of revenues in 2000 and 0.5 percent in 2001.
But there's a catch. Holden has become all of the things GM wants to be, in large part, because it is half a world away from GM's sprawling bureaucracy in Detroit.
"They will go out and do the things that they think should be done, and tell GM later," said Bob Hall, an Australian automotive journalist and former Mazda product development official.
To Hall, that means Holden has the potential to be an unfettered outpost for GM product development - if GM keeps its distance.
"The outfit down here has to be quarantined from GM for it to work for GM," he said. "The strength comes from letting these guys think out of the box."
Holden has learned to make do with limited resources in a small market. Australian light-vehicle sales for 2001 were 753,772 units, according to JATO Dynamics Inc., about 4.4 percent of the United States market.
Holden led the market at 165,577 with a share of about 22 percent, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Holden's main rival is Ford, with Toyota and Mitsubishi trailing.
Working on a smaller scale has pushed Holden to empower "guerrilla product development" teams, Hall said: "These guys can develop vehicles with a staff that would be used to redesign a sun visor in North America. They have tiny groups that move very, very quickly."
Holden also reworks what it brings in from overseas, which plays well with buyers. Australian newspapers recently ran stories on Hanenberger's decision to modify the new Opel Vectra, which it will import, before bringing it to market.
Holden's V/W platform is another example. It is a heavily reworked version of an Opel Omega platform - to the extent that it is "a typical Australian rear-wheel-drive platform," in Hanenberger's words. The architecture is flexible, he said, allowing Holden to shorten it by about 4 inches for the Monaro.