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by Daniel DeGasperi

A senior engineering manager at Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) has revealed that the company was forced by Holden to comply with “inefficient” processes when creating its version of the VF Commodore.

Speaking at the launch of the HSV Gen-F, engineering chief Graham Dusting told CarAdvice that HSV was given no option but to conform to new standards and strict deadlines, which were handed down to Holden by General Motors for the VF Commodore program.

“It was pretty much a new world for Holden,” said Dusting of the requirements for the VF Commodore development program. “I think General Motors in North America said ‘you blokes aren’t gonna make a shitty car’. They said you have to do things differently [and] stick to these processes.”

It wasn’t just globalised parts sharing that defines the VF Commodore program, it seems, but also for the first time globalised development standards. Both Holden and HSV needed to meet strict timings given to them by GM.

HSV Gen-F Range-7

“Holden said if you want us to build your car for you in our plant, no more are you going to just run in at the last minute with an armful of steering wheels and throw them to the operators…” he tells.

“Your steering wheels will have to be in at exactly the same time as our steering wheels.”

It meant that, for the first time ever, HSV would need to work on the run, both beside yet independently of Holden, to the same timeline. For the first time it could not simply take the finished Commodore and then transform it into a HSV as the company had always done.

“For the first time in 25 years, we had to be working pretty much in parallel with Holden developing this car,” he explains.

“They forced us to. We had to meet their milestones, go through their ‘gates’ as they call them.”

HSV Gen-F Range-2

Yet Holden did not allow HSV to drive its engineering mules, and HSV had to buy early body shells off Holden for validation work, even though they weren’t representitive of the final product.

“We were on our own from day one, we really didn’t know what the other car [Holden’s VF] was going to be like … so we never really got a chance to drive their product at each level and make a call on what we wanted to [change].

“We had no access to cars. We bought some early cars [mules], but they weren’t representative.

“The bodies changed so much, it was a waste of money…”

HSV Gen-F Range-12

Dusting cites the HSV Gen-F as the most expensive project the company has ever undertaken, even eclipsing the VE-based E-Series.

HSV had to spend more money than it ever had on validation work, such as integrating its Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) app with GM’s global MyLink system.

It also had to invest extensively on testing its brakes to new, strict GM global guidelines, which made it difficult to amortise the cost of such work for a relatively low-volume project.

That was particularly the case for the supercharged V8 GTS, a project which Holden was lukewarm about.

HSV Gen-F Range-11

“[There was] an unbelievable amount of hoops to jump through for that [GTS],” sighs Dusting.

“[Holden] marketing were happy, they thought it’s a good idea, but Holden engineering didn’t think we’d keep it cool enough because they had trouble with Camaro during development. And the Adelaide plant didn’t want to build it.”

Despite the frustrations at home, HSV says working alongside Chevrolet engineers in the US was a highlight.

“Our engine cal [calibration] blokes got to know them [Chevrolet engineers] quite well. They were fantastic; couldn’t be more helpful.”

HSV Gen-F Range-3

Asked whether the increase in red-tape and process made the project difficult, the engineering head explained both the downsides and upsides.

“It is something we’ve resisted over the years because we’ve built a reputation on being able to do things quicker and more efficiently,” he says.

“So it was a hard pill to swallow … to have to follow that process. We’re not used to that.

“It’s quite a culture shock for a lot of the long-termers at HSV.”

HSV Gen-F Range-5

But do the stringent global program guidelines make development less efficient?

“Yeah, it’s definitely less efficient.

“It has its huge advantages, but a lot of frustrations as well.”

Despite the frustrations, though, Dusting says the final result made the newly enforced processes a step for the better.

“I think it’s been for the better, to be honest, we’ve never been so prepared and it’s gone very smoothly. We’ve had very few issues…”

  • $29896495

    No, ALL Australian!! Eat your words Holden fan boys.

    • JoeR_AUS

      well since 2000 when the GEN 3 engine can on line it has not been all Australian….

  • Westie

    Sounds like GM America is aiming to bring big time ‘Murican Effishuncy to their Australian offshoot. Anyone who’s read about the mess the Yanks made of Holden with their interference from day one right through to the 70s knows what this brings.

    • JoeR_AUS

      Living in the 70’s?

      GM could of easily closed Holden after GFC as it makes less cars than SAAB, so the changes is to bring Holden in-line with the Global direction all manufacturers are doing and better than the path Ford has taken.

      • $29896495

        It’s going to be essentially the same path as Ford in the end. You obviously don’t know the SAAB story. Not GFC related.

        • JoeR_AUS

          wikileaks has confirmed that GM was conteplating closing Holden!

          SAAB History and GFC? Well its documented as “Owing to fading fortunes across their entire business, GM announced that the Saab brand was “under review” in December 2008, a process which included the possibility of selling or shuttering the carmaker” well this statement was made after the GFC that took GM to chapter 11.

          • Ben

            Holden will close ultimately, Suppliers to Holden will not be able to sustain business after the loss of Ford contracts. Holden will make a valiant effort, and the government will continue to pump in tax payers money, in a failed effort to keep Holden afloat. However the days of generic Australian cars that are so far behind the global eight ball being rolled out with a new stripe or grill each year is over. It is a shame for all the workers, but the world has moved on.

          • JoeR_AUS

            Agree what you wrote. There is another option. That is the government sits down with GM, Ford (USA) and plan a global industry in Australia. From ore to exported vehicles. In effect Holden becomes a manufacturer for GM and provides IP for global cars.

          • Sean

            I have just bought a new HSV but would prefer the Camaro that is 1/2 the price of our cars with the same kit, same engine etc. You pay $40k over there for what you pay in Australia $85k.

            If the new VF takes-off over there then they will make it, but at-least we have got a MAJOR upgrade and features only because of GM.
            What Joer said about Uniting with GM + Ford is the sensible way, these two are doing this again for another gearbox the 10 speed automatic. You always want GM and FORD to be different but they can still share a dam lot of electronics etc.

  • Hector

    I believe GM America’s heavy involvement in the VF has contributed to Holden building a higher end product.

    The reviews are starting to flow in and the VF is receiving a lot of praise. One reviewer clocked 0-100 in 4.8 seconds for the SS-V without launch control. This is a seriously fast car in today’s times.

    I don’t think Holden can survive in Australia without strict direction from it’s parent company.

    • Robin_Graves

      One review the VF SS got dusted by a stock XR6 Turbo, so nothing special there.

      • Hector

        forced induction yes. let’s see how well “dusted” the FPV 335GT is after a head to head with a similar forced induction car from the HSV camp.

        you forgot to mention that the XR6 failed at ‘dusting’ the SS in every other category notably design, tech features, refinement, handling and value.

        • Robin_Graves

          Blah blah, when the hammer drops the B.S. stops.

        • Damian

          What tech features? Some electronics with questionable practicality is more than offset by pushrods and two valves per cylinder. Until Holden does a twin turbo six, it’s still behind the eight ball.

          • adz

            haha im not a holden or ford fan, i like em both, but how can @Robin_Graves:disqus compare the VF to a 6 year old falcon, i’d be seriously concerned if the Holden didn’t beat it for tech, refinement, handling and value. You may as well compare a VX SS to a FG, for a similar comparison you fool.

      • Sean

        Drive them in the wet and the Turbo is Horrible.
        Also sounds horrible and turns horrible. Just like all the test done in the mags for the Typhoon it has DNA as they cant control the thing.

        As Hector says compare apple with apples, the new GTS will make the XR6 look silly as it should at the price. But the GTS price is cheap when you see the BMW-MERC-AUDI-etc are all poxie 1.8 or 2.0 liter cars at that price.

    • gtrxuone

      We where all surprised when we seen the marked improvement in the quality of the interior in the VF.If that’s the global Holden that’s a good thing.

      • Sean

        Very True time will only tell. I think Ford will benefit a-lot also the USA and European Fords I could easy buy many of them not like the Australian that drive horrible. Maybe my next car will be one.

  • Mick McWilliams

    Sounds like the same thing a lot of organisations go through when applying stricter controls. It improves project management and reduces risk. Costs more than a smooth loosely controlled project, but is much cheaper than a loosely controlled project that has problems. Can’t argue with the stellar result though.

    • Richard

      Very true… these processes (the mention of gates was familiar) are well known in IT. They have pluses and minuses. Increased overheads and lead times… but , hopefully, reduced risk, increased quality.

  • Phil

    Graham Dusting is probably a much better engineer than he is a PR person. I think on reflection he might wish to phrase things a bit differently. Like not using the word “inefficient”, as if a tiny company who turns out a small number of modified production cars is in a place to lecture GM on efficiency, who turn out millions of vehicles. But he’s new to the job, taking over from Joel Stoddart only recently. I’ll cut him some slack.

    • guest

      I wonder if it might have been more efficient to close down the project (and HSV as well)? It just seems like there is some poor communication happening here that doesn’t really create a lot of confidence – despite the cars themselves seeming like they are extremely well done.

      Seems like a change of processes and culture that they needed to have.

      I’ll still dream about having a GTS – even though it’s outside of my price range. Now to give that some context, I’m very much left wing, somewhat environmentally concious (eg, save water, solar panels on the roof, ride a bicycle as much as I can, etc) – but even I love these big, powerful muscle sedans like E63 AMG, Jaguar XFR-S and HSV GTS.

      Yes, the rear drive E63 can’t use 410kW it has without oversteering all over the shop (let alone the even more potent S model), but then there is fun in having something that’s bad for you. Controlling that power.

      But then again, maybe the GTS won’t be like that at all, perhaps it’ll put all of its power down easily and just be a well controlled rocket. If it does, it’ll have the makings of something very special and enjoyable indeed.

      • Phil

        The roots supercharger provides a more linear delivery – it mimics the power delivery of an NA motor, except there’s more power. The GTS could be expected to offer similar drivability to the XFR, rather than the AMG turbos where you can control the torque curve and use boost to create a load of bottom end torque.

        I don’t think there’s anything to really worry about – there’s just been a change of development processes over what a small company like HSV has gotten used to over 20 years or so. They’ve had a wake up call into how global car manufacturing works, within a complex legislative environment that is making life harder for everybody. Holden has survived within GM largely because of their cost effective design and engineering ability – if HSV can demonstrate that same kind of ingenuity for performance cars, they have a future.

  • Smart US

    and they are proud that someone told how slack they are??? is this a joke??? great Aussie joke??

  • Rocket

    The VF is just a VE with some extra kit and a face lift and the Camaro engine was already developed in the USA so it can’t be that hard to build the ” new ” car. They should be grateful GM and the Government support them to assemble cars here instead of whinging how hard it is to do business.

  • Sumpguard

    Perhaps the restraint will stop them stuffing up the look of the cars again with over the top add ons. Time will tell I guess.

    I hope Holden and HSV do well with their cars. With the output of the GTS I suspect they will find markets they never knew existed offshore once word gets out.

  • crouchy35

    If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of someone getting a serious talking to over at HSV.

    What a stupid thing to come out and say. “Oh yeah…. we were pretty unprofessional….. we didnt know what we were doing…. we rushed everything….. and now these damn americans are pushing us around!!!!!….. we’re not happy about it!”

    • Mick McWilliams

      I don’t think that is a fair way to put it. Great innovation and engineering can come from thinking on your feet. There is even greater reward in achieving a goal which has a potential of falling in a steaming pile.

      The risk averse way of engineering is not cost effective unless you apply risk as cost. To offset that risk (of failure) you spend money through applications of controls. It means the engineers spend more time in progress meetings than on the track, so you get less engineering per dollar. You would never have spent that money on meetings if you’re confident in the capacity of your your engineers.

      So if you have confidence in your engineers meeting their targets, you get more productivity out of them AND spend less money.

      The American way of doing things has always been to throw LOTS of money at every aspect of a project. They have lots of specialists which results in a disconnect between departments. Australians typically have smaller organisations which can lead to better communication between departments and thus better integrated products for less dollars.