It may have axed local manufacturing and shrunk its dealer network but General Motors‘ Australian outpost is adding 150 engineers – taking the workforce to 500 – to work on developing future technology for autonomous vehicles and electric powertrains.

Speaking at Holden HQ before taking a tour of the Lang Lang Proving Ground, where local Holden and global GM vehicles have been tested for the past 60 years, GM EVP and president, global product group and Cadillac, Mark Reuss, said Australian engineers would be fully integrated into global GM engineering teams.

Reuss, an engineer, is a former managing director of Holden.

“GM is determined to be the first company to bring safe, autonomous vehicles to market — not within years, but in quarters. Make no mistake, we’re moving to a driverless future — a future of safer roads and zero crashes,” he said.

“At the same time, GM is well on its way to bringing at least 20 new all-electric models to market by 2023.

“The world-class vehicle engineering capability we have at Holden in Australia will play a significant role in GM delivering on its commitment to create a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”

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The 150 newest recruits will be a mixture of both experienced and graduate engineers.

Holden engineering chief Brett Vivian said: “This announcement of 150 new engineers at Holden to work on global advanced vehicle development comes on top of significant upgrades we have made to the emissions test lab and test tracks at Lang Lang.

“The engineering unit has a bright future undertaking important local and global work, from ensuring imported vehicles can master Australia’s unique driving conditions, to developing the technologies that will power the future of mobility globally.

“With today’s announcement, we will now be spending up to A$120m annually on automotive research and development at our operations.”

Vivian said Holden was targeting “the best of the best” of Australia’s established and graduate engineers to join the team.

“We want to harness the best young engineering minds in the country. This is an incredible opportunity to work on GM’s global products and to be at the forefront of industry innovation. We’re looking for forward-thinking people with a passion for creating revolutionary solutions; people who can work collaboratively and have strong communication skills. Automotive engineering experience is desired but not a pre-requisite.”

Holden chairman and managing director Dave Buttner (a former Toyota Australia chief) said: Today’s AVD announcement is the latest investment which strengthens Holden’s future. Australia is one of the key sites outside of North America for Maven businesses, including car sharing, and we will be offering industry-leading connectivity with the rollout of OnStar beginning in Australia from next year.

“We are also establishing GM Financial here in Australia – so what we offer customers continues to broaden as our industry and consumer expectations change.”

Local trade publication GoAutoNews said the Melbourne-based design studio, GM Design Australia, was already working on advanced designs for GM,
with several futuristic concept cars already shipped to the automaker’s main design studio in Warren, Michigan, for internal assessment.

It noted the post-manufacturing vehicle development effort was still small compared with Holden’s R&D team of pre-global financial crisis days when its staff of 900 was responsible for the global rear wheel drive Zeta platform development that spawned the VE and VF Commodores, and the Chevrolet Camaro.

It is also smaller than Ford’s Asia-Pacific product development team in Australia which has 1,500 engineers and designers working on a range of products, including the global Ranger truck.

GoAutoNews said the GM spend of $120m, up $28m compared with Ford’s local R&D budget of almost $500m.

GM has other advanced vehicle development units in Detroit, South Korea and China.