Peter Hanenberger, the German chief of General Motors’ Down Under affiliate Holden, has pledged to halt car production any time that build quality falls below standard, writes Mike Duffy.

Hanenberger said car companies could no longer afford to ignore customers’ expectations of fault-free cars and correct quality “on the run”.

“We have a long-term business plan to produce cars as good as our European competitors,” Hanenberger told

“Consistent build quality is the key element to that plan and I will halt the assembly line any time our quality assurance systems tell us our vehicles are failing to maintain the highest standard.

“If you build poorly produced vehicles you run the risk of losing customers. In a worst-case scenario you could lose entire markets.

“That is not going to happen at Holden – we are working too hard and investing too heavily for growth to allow that to happen.”

In January, Holden surprised the global car industry by halting production at its assembly plant in Adelaide, South Australia to correct minor quality problems.

The nine-hour stoppage resulted in lost production of 500 cars, worth about $A20 million ($US10.4 million).

Prime areas of concern were poor fitment of a range of components including handbrakes, air conditioning units, door and boot seals plus rough edges on soft mouldings.

Holden produces the large rear-drive Commodore and long wheelbase Statesman/Caprice models which are powered by US-designed, naturally aspirated and supercharged 3.8 litre V6 engines and 5.7 litre V8s.

The car maker has set itself an ambitious target to export 50,000 CBU (completely built up) cars by 2004.

Holden sold 155,137 vehicles in Australia in 2000 and was the clear winner in the passenger car segment, but Toyota, buoyed by strong sales of light commercials, was overall market leader by 3771 vehicles.

Holden is aiming to take back the title of best-selling marque this year.

The Holden Commodore is a best seller in Australia, and is also doing well overseas

The Commodore is the best selling car in Australia and is finding a rising number of takers overseas, especially in the Middle East where it is sold in left-hand drive form as a Chevrolet.

Holden also plans to expand left-hand drive exports to Latin America and right-hand drive shipments to South Africa.

“It’s all about perceived quality,” Hanenberger, Holden’s chairman and managing director, said.

“It was a tough call only in as much it was going to cost us much-needed vehicles and a lot of revenue.

“But the result was well worth the action. Immediately, there was a dramatic improvement in the quality of our cars.”

Holden negotiated with unions to start 2001 one week early, with workers giving up a week of the Christmas/New Year holiday, to give the car maker a solid bank of vehicles with which to go into the new year.

Hanenberger and his top executives hold regular management drive days at the car maker’s Victorian proving grounds to sample their own cars as well as try rival models.

“We are the biggest critics of our own products,” he said.

“We have to strive for the perfect product. I know it’s a new culture for a lot of people.

“Many were shocked when I halted the line, but quality is the key to any manufacturer’s future.

“The customer will not accept arrogance in the form of shoddy cars which are unreliable and poorly built.”

Author Mike Duffy is the motoring editor of The Advertiser and the Sunday Mail, in Adelaide, South Australia.