GM Holden will significantly expand its Port Melbourne design centre to design vehicles for global markets.

The Port Melbourne design operations will be GM's third largest design centre behind its Detroit, United States and Russelsheim, Germany centres.

Local staff will increase from 107 to 176, making it the largest automotive design centre in Australia.

The decision means Melbourne staff will assume key global roles in the design and engineering of General Motors cars outside the Australian market.

Company vice-president of global design, Ed Welburn, announced the expansion in the city during a visit with GM Holden design director Tony Stolfo.

Welburn said Holden would take on design programmes for other GM brands in recognition of Australia's maturity and achievements as a design centre.

"This decision means the coming of age for GM Holden Design, its place in the GM design world and frankly, the world of design in general," Welburn said.

"As the world's largest automotive company, it is natural that GM would harness the abilities and vision of its designers around the world to expand and develop its vehicle portfolio.

"GM's vision is a team of hundreds of the world's best designers who push themselves, and each other, to make each new design better than the one before.

"GM Holden has earned its place at the table through delivering internationally successful production cars as well as breathtaking concept cars over the past few years.

"Our Australian operations are making their presence felt around the world, with designers currently based in the United States, Europe, Korea and China.

"GM Holden has been a high output design house for many years and we're about to make it something much bigger.

Welburn said the Australian unit offered strategic benefits for GM because it combined with other key centres in the United States and Europe to deliver around-the-clock design potential.

GM Holden has already started its largest design recruitment programme in company history, scouring the globe for 70 new designers.

Stolfo said it would seek to recruit technical experts in each of seven key disciplines - technical design, colour and trim, creative design, digital sculpting, modelling and fabrication, design quality and visualisation.

He said almost 400 applicants from around the world had responded to preliminary calls for expressions of interest, initiated to determine the depth of available talent for such a large-scale design staff hiring process.

"This takes GM Holden Design to a new level. We're no longer just a design team, we're part of a global design team," Stolfo said.

"We've certainly done some non-Holden design before now, but it's always been ad hoc. From today, that capability becomes part of GM Design's DNA.

"It means that we can potentially apply our skills to any GM brand in the world.

Stolfo said his organisation enjoyed strong links with Australian design educational institutions and hoped to be able to hire strong local talent in the process. He said hiring completion was expected in the first quarter of 2006, depending on availability of candidates.

"We've worked hard to build the educational infrastructure to develop tomorrow's stars. As an example, we are heavily involved in the development of the automotive design curriculum at Monash University," Stolfo said.

"This is a great opportunity for us and we want to make sure we can tap into Australian talent as much as possible. At the same time, we would also love to bring in ideas from overseas to create variation in the way our designers think about and view cars."

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