Exports by General Motors’ Australian operation Holden increased by 37 percent in 2000, contributing $A1.3 billion ($US555 million) to the continent’s balance of trade and consolidating the company’s position as the leading exporter of automotive products and services.

By 2005, Holden predicts that its export revenue earnings will hit the $A2.3 billion ($US1.3 billion) mark, buoyed by global sales of V6 engines to be produced at a new facility in Melbourne, Victoria.

In 2000 Holden shipped 29,198 cars to international markets – 27 per cent more than the previous year’s total of 22,965. Revenue from vehicle and vehicle component sales jumped accordingly – from $A543 million ($US301 million) in 1999 to $A783 million ($US434 million) in 2000.

Four cylinder engine exports also lifted last year to 264,942 units. This total represented a 38 per cent increase over 1999 (191,815 units) and, combined with engine component exports, earned some $A447 million ($US24 million) in export revenue.

Engineering expertise also brought in $A80 million ($US44 million) of export revenue, via specialist services provided to support GM product programs in the Asia Pacific region and Europe.

For example, Holden Powertrain Engineering was responsible for the design and development of the new generation 1.8 litre EcoTec four-cylinder engine which powers the German-designed Astra model in markets such as Europe, Asia, South Africa and Latin America.

Holden’s German chairman and managing director Peter Hanenberger said last year’s attainment of close to 30,000 vehicle exports confirmed that the company was on track to achieving its 2005 target of 50,000 units annually.

Holden’s Commodore is a Chevrolet Lumina in the Middle East

“This year, we’re forecasting an increase to 34,000 vehicles, which will happen as our Chevrolet-branded penetration into Middle Eastern markets deepens and as we continue to explore further opportunities in Latin America, South Africa and Asia as they present themselves,” he said.

Over 2,000 units of Holden’s incremental vehicle export volume last year came via police fleets in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The company’s low-volume customisation unit Holden by Design fits left-hand drive versions of the Commodore and Statesman/Caprice to order with police-specification extras such as push bars, flashing warning lights, internal screens, handcuff restraints and extra wiring, and they are shipped from the Elizabeth plant in South Australia as finished products.

Abu Dhabi police drive V8 Chevrolet Caprice sedans, made by GM Holden in Australia

This year Holden has already placed tenders for a similar volume of specially-fitted vehicles with the Saudi police.

In the final quarter Holden made its first shipments of ss Commodores to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana – where they sell alongside premium GM brands like Cadillac and Saab.

Regionally, Holden has expansion plans for a number of Asian markets, including Indonesia, where the Commodore recently received an enthusiastic public reaction at the Jakarta Motor Show.

Chevrolet Lumina (Commodore) sedans and wagons and V8-powered Chevrolet Caprice sedans (based on the luxury Statesman/Caprice derivative of the Commodore) are the top-selling GM models in the Middle East.

Last year, exports of Chevrolet Lumina LS sedans and wagons, LTZ and SS sedans totalled 9,400. As Holden predicted, exports of Chevrolet Caprice LS, LTZ and SS models – at 9,790 units – exceeded the domestic Statesman/Caprice total of 6,589, making this the first locally-produced Holden model to achieve higher volume internationally than it does at home Down Under.

Holden was a also a major Australian car exporter in the 1950s and 1960s

Holden was a major exporter in the 1950s and ’60s to some 150 countries with its cars even being sold in markets as diverse as Greece and Hawaii.

But a burgeoning variety of safety and emissions control regulations, plus growing competition from Japanese automakers led to a pull-back and the company dropped left-hand drive exports from its model development programmes in the late 1960s.

It continued low-volume RHD exports to nearby New Zealand and some Asia-Pacific markets until the late 1990s when LHD versions of a new Commodore model were developed.

The Middle East and South America are not the first markets where Holdens have enjoyed success with Chevrolet badges. Some 1960s and 1970s models also wore the “blue bow tie” logo in New Zealand and South Africa.