The bombshell announcement about the closure of the Holden brand narrowly avoided being broken weeks earlier than planned – after claims that executives openly drafted confidential emails while sitting in business class on a flight home from Detroit.
It has been claimed that emails outlining how Holden planned to notify dealers and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about the closure – and the loss of about 600 jobs – were written on an afternoon flight from Detroit to Los Angeles in late January.
The email exchanges written on a laptop computer using in-flight wifi were visible to other passengers in nearby seats, according to a social media post seen by CarAdvice.
“So the managing director of Holden, Kristian Aquilina, was sitting in front of me on the plane,” the Facebook post said.
“In the most incredible lapse of information security, he composed emails and reviewed documents about the end of Holden in Australia, to be announced in February,” the social media post continued.
“He wrote about how to spin things with the ACCC, the dealer network and the timing of notifying employees … right in front of my eyes. (And) writing how concerned he was about leaks.”
A statement from Holden said: “Late last year Holden presented General Motors with an investment plan to reinvigorate the iconic brand. In considering that plan, GM worked through a number of alternative options, everything from building Holden up to retiring it.
“A great deal of planning was done by Mr Aquilina personally to make sure that whatever option was chosen could be made to happen with the best interests of Holden’s customers, staff, and dealers in mind,” the statement continued.
“As we have said many times, the decision to wind-down Holden was taken only a matter of days before it was announced.”
The passenger – who has spoken to CarAdvice but asked to remain anonymous – said it was difficult for others seated nearby to not see notes being written by the Holden boss, who was reportedly sitting next to a colleague.
The passenger told CarAdvice: “Their body language and mood seemed tense and worried to say the least. They were not relaxed. It would be apparent they’ve been at GM headquarters in Detroit.”
“I am making no effort to pry, it is right in front of my face,” the passenger told CarAdvice.
The passenger claims the Holden boss reportedly expressed “concern about the ACCC and their regulatory power in Australia”.
Holden sales halved in the two years since the end of local manufacturing, in 2017. The 2019 tally was Holden’s worst result since 1954.
The Holden boss reportedly also made a reference to dealers being unprofitable, which Mr Aquilina (pictured below) has since confirmed during an interview last week with ABC TV’s The Business show.
In his only television interview since announcing the Holden brand would be retired by the end of 2020, Mr Aquilina told ABC TV: “Last year a Holden dealer (in Australia) made a loss of $600 per car for every new Holden they sold, which isn’t great. Our (compensation) offer to them is $1500 (per car).”
When asked why Holden dealers in New Zealand were offered the equivalent of $2500 per new-car sold over a set period – as part of their compensation over the closure of the brand – Mr Aquilina told ABC TV: “When it comes to looking at the New Zealand business, it’s just a fact that they were a far more profitable network of dealers, and as such their (compensation) amount is different.”
This means Australian Holden dealers who ran at a loss for at least 12 months have been offered less compensation for the unexpected termination of their franchise agreements, compared to their counterparts in New Zealand who were significantly more profitable.
A statement from the Australian Holden Dealer Council said: “We wish to allow the authorities to investigate thoroughly before making any comment”.
US car giant General Motors says the decision to axe Holden by the end of 2020 was made in the lead-up to the official announcement on 17 February 2020.
Holden dealers believe the wheels were in motion last year when General Motors began secret negotiations to sell the Thailand factory that was the source of the brand’s most important model, the Colorado ute.
Last week, a two-day mediation process between representatives for General Motors and Holden dealers ended in a stalemate.
Holden dealers in Australia are yet to accept a compensation offer from General Motors over the sudden closure of the brand.
The network of 185 dealers who operate 203 showrooms nationally say they are owed up to four times the amount offered to them by General Motors.
The US car maker has consistently said its offer is “fair and reasonable”.
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