General Motors’ Australian arm Holden has marked the completion of construction at its so-called “high feature” V6 engine plant.

The ceremony came almost 18 months to the day after the ground-breaking ceremony for the $A400 million plant at the Melbourne industrial suburb of Fishermans Bend in Victoria state.

Together with local politicians, Holden chairman and managing director Peter Hanenberger unveiled the plant’s new signage at a ceremony in front of about 1,000 guests and Holden employees.

The V6 plant will commence engine manufacture in October 2003 following the installation of state-of-the-art equipment.

Hanenberger said the completion was particularly significant because construction had occurred without one day lost through site-specific industrial action and with an excellent safety record.

He said the plant would produce engines for future model Commodores as well as General Motors vehicles built around the globe.

“Holden is a company undergoing a significant transformation from local car maker to niche global manufacturer supported by strong domestic performance,” he said.

“Our ability to develop class-leading products for Australian consumers will underpin our drive to take those products around the world.

“It has certainly been assisted by stable long-term policy settings at the federal and state levels. This means more jobs for Australians and more export revenue for Australia.”

Hanenberger said the new HFV6 engine represented leading modular design technology allowing Holden and General Motors to service a range of global requirements.

The engine family comes in four displacements from 2.8 to 3.8 litres. Varying displacements will be produced at Fishermans Bend and GM’s plant in St Catharines, Canada.

The all-aluminium construction features dual overhead camshafts, 24-valve cylinder head and continuously variable cam phasing. The engines can be used for front, rear or all-wheel drive and are compatible with hybrid electric applications.

“These engines have outstanding fuel economy, lower emissions and sufficient versatility to be tailored to legislative requirements in various markets,” Hanenberger said.

“This plant is a huge investment by any standards, enabling Holden to take Australian innovation, technology and quality onto the world stage.”

Holden confirmed Fishermans Bend in December 2000 as the site for the new plant.

The HFV6 plant is the centrepiece of a $A2 billion, five year capital program for Holden in its Australian manufacturing facilities.

Holden has already commenced hiring for the plant with the bulk of recruitment to occur early next year.

Holden currently uses an older family of GM US-designed V6 engines in its Australian market-leading Commodore range, including the two-door Monaro and long-wheelbase Statesman/Caprice derivatives, some of which are exported to New Zealand, the Middle East and South America.

The company has regularly updated the 3.8-litre V6 line first installed in production Commodores in 1988 (replacing bought-in Nissan straight-six engines used in the previous model Commodores for several years).

The V6s, in both normally aspirated and supercharged versions, were originally designed in the early 1980s for front-drive GM North American vehicle platforms but Holden adapted them to the rear-drive Commodore and has, since 1988, gradually increased the proportion of Australian-made componentry in the engines and the proportion of local assembly.

The new V6 line will replace the older V6 engines in the Commodore range.

Holden completed its new V6 engine plant building just two weeks after The Detroit News reported that GM would divide its US engine line into ‘image’, ‘high feature’ and ‘high value’ lines and would market them to car buyers using similar methods as computer chip maker Intel which encourages PC buyers to buy machines with its processors inside.

The Detroit News said GM would aim so-called ‘high-feature’ powertrains at the roughly 20-30% of car owners prepared to pay for added performance but who consider other attributes when deciding on a vehicle.

The newspaper said the ‘high feature’ category would include a new family of dual overhead camshaft V6 engines with displacements of 2.8- to 3.6-litres.

A fortnight ago, Holden would not comment to just-auto on its future engine plans but the 2.8- to ‘3.6’-litre engine line referred to in the Detroit News report would now appear to be the same engine line that Holden this week confirmed it will build in Melbourne.

“Holden has not actually specified at this point which displacement(s) it will build from the GM family,” the company’s corporate communications manager Jason Laird told just-auto on Thursday.

“HFV6 engine specs were detailed in a briefing by Tom Stephens and others at a GM Powertrain briefing at Milford early last month.  All detail on the HFV6 engines to date has been in a generic, “options available” arrangement.

“Holden will talk about local specifications for its HFV6 engine closer to… October 2003.”

Recent Australian media comparisons of the substantially revised Ford Falcon – with new four-litre twin-cam straight-six engine – have mentioned the rival (and just facelifted) Commodore’s ‘ageing’ 3.8-litre V6 and suggested a new motor is overdue. Holden is now clearly soon to introduce it.

The new American-designed V6 line’s capacity range of 2.6- to 3.8-litres not only potentially gives Holden a replacement for its current normally-aspirated and supercharged 3.8-litre engines but could add a a low-displacement 2.6 for sale in export markets where vehicles are taxed on engine capacity.

Holden has in the past contested these displacement-sensitive markets with that two-litre Nissan straight-six imported from Japan, a locally-made GM Europe-designed, two-litre four (not a success) and an Opel-built 2.6-litre straight six.

The new V6s – made in either Australia or the US – could also possibly find their way to GM’s European Opel and Vauxhall operations which currently install UK-made Ecotec 2.6- and 3.2-litre V6s in the Vectra and Omega car lines.

This European engine line is also used in US-built Cadillac and Saturn models.