Ford steals Holden's thunder Downunder

By Liz Dobson

Rivalry strong as ever, even as end-game draws near

Holden's VF Commodore will be sold as the Chevy SS in North America. Photo / Supplied
Holden's VF Commodore will be sold as the Chevy SS in North America. Photo / Supplied

Talk about a party pooper. Just as the first preview drive programme for VF Commodore is about to leave Canberra, GM Holden Australia's boss, American Mike Devereux, calls for our attention.

Devereux had just revelaled Australian-built large car to the media - just days after the latest generation of the car rolled off the production line at the company's Adelaide plant.

On Wednesday, May 22, the first group of the Australasian media, including Driven, attended workshops explaining the design and build of the vehicle. And the next day, just as we are about to drive off in the new VF around Canberra, Holden's arch rival Ford has called a press conference - putting an immediate dampener on the excitement.

Devereux tells us that Ford's announcement will come about the time of a break in the drive programme and he'll hold a press conference after that.

The news, as we now all know, was Ford halting production in Australia in 2016 and extinction of the Falcon model.

Two hours later we stand around Devereux's VF Commodore, in the small town of Adaminaby, at the base of the Snowy mountains, listening to the telephone conference call via the car's MyLink system.

A question is asked to Ford Australia's boss, Bob Graziano, by a Holden staff member posing as one of us journalists at the VF launch, about the timing of the announcement. That Thursday, May 23 - the day Holden's first fleet of Commodores hits the road with the press on board - is the same day Ford decided to make its industry-changing news.

Graziano explained that the decision to close the Australian plant was made on Monday and had been leaked to the manufacturing union by Wednesday, so he couldn't hold off any longer on the announcement.

"First and foremost, our focus is on Ford employees," he said.

To the cynical it was part of the Ford-Holden rivalry - take the focus off Holden - but the news was already out and the actual aftermath was an increase in Holden fans.

As I drove with a Holden Australia staff member, she read out comments on social media: "I was going to buy a Ford, but now I'm getting a Holden Cruze," says one on the company's Facebook page.

On Twitter: "My brother has just cancelled an order for a FPV [the company's performance range] but now he's going to buy a HSV [Holden's sport version]."

As Devereux's lunch-time press conference ends he announces "Ford's gone, we're still here", but a large focus on the company manufacturing in Australia beyond Ford will be the production of the VF Commodore as a left-hand drive Chevy SS for North America.

Accommodating the change from right-hand drive "wasn't hard", GM Holden's executive director of engineering, Greg Tyus, tells me.

"During the production you are thinking about the change ... about making sure there is room when moving the steering wheel across," said American Tyus.

"You are making sure there is room in the engine bay for moving the steering gear across and inside the car you are looking at the room in the footwell to make sure you can move the pedals across."

As production starts on the Chevy SS by the end of the year at the Adelaide plant, it will be interesting to see if the American buyers can be the saviour of the Australian manufacturer.

- NZ Herald

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