General Motors North American chairman Bob Lutz recently visited Australia to evaluate importing the Holden Monaro and possibly the Commodore Ute to North America. Lutz sees a potential market for the V8 Monaro in the USA “in the range of 20,000 vehicles.”

“We want to take the Monaro coupe back with us and put it in Pontiac dealerships across the US,” he said in a particularly candid speech, delivered to Australian media on Tuesday, February 19, 2002.

If the Monaro export program gets the green light, it could be on sale in America in as little as two years.

“We think the Monaro could easily be the reinvention of the Pontiac GTO, and the Commodore Ute the modern day Chevy El Camino,” he said referring to two well known US General Motors nameplates – both of which currently don’t exist. “None of this is official, yet, but I’m here to look at opportunities, not look for obstacles.”

Two obstacles the Monaro will have to overcome relate to safety, and production capacity. The Monaro may have to be modified to meet strict North American safety standards before it can be sold there. Also, Holden’s Elizabeth production plant is currently flat out producing enough Commodores and Monaros for Australia. Holden builds 140,000 Commodore-based vehicles a year under a two-shift schedule. In order to accommodate potential US demand, a third shift would have to be added.

Both Lutz and Holden boss Peter Hanenberger are cautiously optimistic about this export opportunity.

Lutz wouldn’t lay odds on the success of the ‘Monaro to the US’ export venture, instead saying, “GM has a history of getting things done when two parties want it done. North America badly wants the Monaro, and Holden wants to boost its exports.”

That’s the official reason behind Lutz’s recent visit. But does it take six General Motors heavies to evaluate what they readily admit is a ‘niche’ model? We have reason to believe Lutz is in Australia looking at far more than just potential US imports.

Bob Lutz is the recently appointed chairman of General Motors North America, and vice chairman in charge of product development. He visited Australia for 4 days with a team of executives from GM North America. This team included no less than four vice presidents, the biggest collection of General Motors VPs to ever visit Australia.

Engineering, powertrain development, communications, research and development, and the product planning department were all represented, which accounts for almost all of GM’s product departments. Rudy Schlais, retiring president of GM Asia Pacific, and his replacement Fritz Henderson were also in Australia at the same time.

That such an elite team should make a combined excursion downunder, coupled with Lutz’s unreserved, gushing praise for General Motors’ Holden subsidiary would suggest the trip was actually a wake up call for the North American operation.

Lutz stated, in no uncertain terms, that he wants General Motors to look closely at what Holden does and how it does it, and take best practices back to the States. “Holden is a microcosm of what we would like GM to be,” he said. “GM really has a lot to learn from what Holden does.”
A Holden insider sees this attention and praise from the top of the GM corporate tree as potentially dangerous – a two edged sword.

“It’s great that General Motors’ attention is focused on Holden,” the insider said, “but it’s also dangerous. All this praise is effectively a slap in the face of General Motors’ US executives. Lutz is basically saying ‘Look at what those guys in Australia can do with limited manpower and limited budgets. Why can’t you do that?’ “

Phrases like “Holden is building great products… a hidden nugget of excellence… the only GM company to achieve budgeted profit,” are prevalent throughout Lutz’s speech. Our source believes this will only inflame Holden’s American counterparts rather than encourage them to learn.

“You can’t teach them (GM USA) anything. They don’t accept that anything innovative or useful can come from anywhere outside US borders. “

“You can’t teach them (GM USA) anything. They don’t accept that anything innovative or useful can come from anywhere outside US borders. The flow of information and technology in GM is a one way street, and every time we go over there we are banging our heads against a brick wall.”
Our source went on to suggest that Lutz’s attentions and praise puts Holden in a dangerous position.

“They (GM) will now be spending plenty of time looking at how Holden gets things done, but not with the sole intention of learning from it. They will also be looking to poke holes in our accomplishments, to show why things shouldn’t be done the way Holden does them.”

That may be so, but Bob Lutz’s intentions are clear. The man who, along with General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner and GM finance boss John Devine, is tasked with taking GM boldly into the future is clear on what he wants to accomplish with this trip to Australia. “GM must leverage Holden every way it can, must learn from it as much as possible…We must share best practices, best designs, best components…to make the best cars.”

Whichever way you look at it, those in the GM tower of power are searching for ways to make General Motors the driving force in the automotive 21st century. And their gaze is firmly fixed on Australia. For better or worse.