Former Holden boss Mark Reuss, now the global head of General Motors product development, is too humble to admit it, but he saved Holden – and gave the company an opportunity to pull itself out of a nosedive – on at least four significant occasions in the past 12 years.
When he was the boss of Holden from 2008 to 2009, he brokered the deal between Detroit and the Australian Federal Government to install the Cruze small car on the production line alongside the locally-made Commodore.
The Cruze program was designed to boost Holden’s local production output to make it more viable. Commodore sales had begun to stall but filling the factory with another model would give the manufacturing operations a chance.
What wasn’t widely reported is that Mr Reuss ran the negotiations while sitting in his car outside a restaurant where his wife was waiting. It was their wedding anniversary, but he worked the phone for close to an hour to save Holden from the brink of extinction.
It was the middle of the Global Financial Crisis and General Motors was in the process of selling off its loss-making brands, including icons such as Pontiac, Hummer and Saab. Holden could have been on that list.
Instead, the Cruze deal would cement Holden as part of General Motors' global plans. At least for the time being. The Cruze went into production in 2011 (unveiled by then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, pictured below with then-Holden boss Mike Devereux, left) but Mr Reuss was already back in the USA on his next assignment.
Even from his new, more senior position in Detroit, Mr Reuss was pulling levers to give Holden another chance to turn around its fortunes.
He expedited a plan for Holden to export left-hand drive versions of the Caprice limousine but as a stripped-out model to be used as a US police car. You can see them when you land at Los Angeles airport, and at various police precincts across the US, including in Detroit.
Mr Reuss was also instrumental in returning the Holden Commodore to the US as a Chevrolet SS V8 sedan from late 2013. The earlier Holden Commodore VE series had been exported as a Pontiac (from 2008 to 2009), but that program ended when the Pontiac brand was axed in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.
Mr Reuss also had a role in ensuring the Commodore would be used as the basis of Chevrolet’s Nascar. An epic feat.
When Mr Reuss saw Holden was in trouble, and that Australian manufacturing was likely to end, he was central to a plan to get two key models – the Chevrolet Equinox five-seat SUV and the GMC Acadia seven-seat SUV, pictured below – factory-built in right-hand drive to bolster the local line-up.
The investment in right-hand drive for these two SUVs has been estimated by insiders with knowledge of the programs to be at least $100 million.
Unfortunately neither model hit their sales forecasts in Australia. Mr Reuss delivered the cars to Holden on a platter and against the odds given the huge expense involved. But Holden couldn’t turn that goodwill into sales or profits.
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