Holden design director Richard Ferlazzo says the company’s Port Melbourne studio is running at capacity with its current staff levels, having been assigned plentiful development work within the wider General Motors empire.
Speaking with CarAdvice last night at the VACC Automotive Design Awards in Melbourne, Ferlazzo reiterated what the company discussed at a design media briefing in April this year: namely, that Holden would remain a key part of GM design, even though it will soon cease to work in tandem with the doomed manufacturing centre in Elizabeth, South Australia.
The studio, based at Holden’s Fisherman’s Bend headquarters, employs 140 people at present (about 25 of whom are actual designers), and performs numerous tasks for its global parent company General Motors beyond the Commodore.
At its peak during the development of the VE Commodore and Camaro, it had around 200 staff, with additional work outsourced. And while it's entirely program-dependent, Ferlazzo said it was "possible" GM could move to add to its current 140 workers on the design side.
As one of GM’s most senior studios, and one of 10 such sites around the world, Holden’s facility is tasked with creating scale and full-sized models and one-off concepts either for internal review or motorshows (the Chevrolet Adra, for example), doing mid-life updates of global models — some of which come here, some of which don’t, according to Ferlazzo — and contributing people-power to wider global projects.
Additionally, the studio performs a sort of corporate ‘Godfather’ role in which it acts as mentor to less-experienced sites in developing markets, frequently hosting foreign designers, or sending its own best and brightest overseas to oversee their works.
All this means that while it no longer leads projects as it did with the VE Commodore and the Camaro that shares much of its underpinnings, it is still an important piece of the Holden jigsaw, and a sign that alongside Ford and its even larger local setup, GM places much stock in local design.
After all, says Ferlazzo, the formidable cost impediments to building cars here are much less pronounced when it comes to penning them.
“I’ve got to say we’re pretty busy, they (GM) don’t need to throw any more. We are full. But the projects can change frequently, that's part of the business, the way any car manufacturer works, it’s that projects wont always come to fruition, that’s part of the exploration.
“But even so we are flat out.”
Furthermore, said Ferlazzo, while it is clear that much of GM Holden’s design work will be either for internal purposes or as a link in a larger global chain, there remains at least one key area in which its work on sketchpads and in CAD will remain exclusive to Australian (and New Zealand) car buyers.
As it moves to become a full importer, the push for Holden to be given reign to have unique nose treatments for its global line-up will become even stronger, meaning we could see — and this is hypothetical — a next-generation Holden Astra or any other such model with a markedly different, Australian-specific nose built by an international factory.
“Yes, that's feasible,” said Ferlazzo. “Yes, and they (overseas factories) kind of do that for us now anyway, there are products sold here like that — Malibu is a unique fascia, Barina is a unique front. Some of them are just badge changes but some are unique to us.”
“We’ve always had it and will continue to do it, it will probably be more important as we go forward because we need to spread out volume across all the cars now, not just on Commodore and Cruze which we build locally. Our portfolio will be better balanced.
“What we can do now is we can pick the very best products, the best global GM products, and establish the portfolio that will take us into the next generation,” Ferlazzo said.
It is this portfolio that will be tasked by returning Holden to the top of the sales charts by 2020, three years after its factory closes.