Little-known Vietnamese car company Vinfast is believed to be the winning bidder for Holden’s test track, however a local green group is continuing to lobby for the preservation of more than half the site for environmental conservation.
The iconic Holden test track on the south-eastern outskirts of Melbourne is being sold after General Motors announced in February it was axing the Holden brand from the end of this year.
The Save the Holden Bushlands Group wants the new owners of the facility to be compelled to preserve the eastern half of the 877-hectare (2167-acre) site, which has been left largely untouched by Holden since it acquired the property in 1955 and began using it in 1958.
Vietnamese startup car company Vinfast – owned by one of Vietnam’s richest men, billionaire Pham Nhat Vuong – is believed to have outbid other candidates, including transport magnate Lindsay Fox who also owns the vast Anglesea vehicle testing facility south-west of Geelong.
The sale price of the Holden Lang Lang test track is yet to be disclosed, but CarAdvice understands the winning offer exceeded $20 million. An announcement confirming the sale could be made in the coming weeks.
CarAdvice understands if Vinfast is the winning bidder, the purchase will require the approval of the Federal Government’s Foreign Investment Review Board. This process is understood to be a formality, although there may be a backlog due to new restrictions on foreign purchases during COVID-19.
As reported earlier, Vinfast already has links to General Motors, having secured a partnership to distribute Chevrolet models in Vietnam, and is due to take ownership of a former GM factory in South Korea.
In the lead-up to the sale of the Holden site at Lang Lang, Vinfast has been hiring dozens of former engineers in Australia from Ford, Toyota and Holden. Although the vehicles will be manufactured in Vietnam, they will be engineered, tested and developed in Australia.
Vinfast cars unveiled so far are superseded BMW models – bought under licence from the German manufacturer – but with unique Vinfast designs.
Vinfast is yet to be confirmed as the new owner of the vehicle testing facility, however industry insiders believe the Vietnamese car company is the winning bidder.
An email sent to the ‘Save the Holden Bushlands Group’ by the Labor member for Bass, Ms Jordan Crugnale, says the identity of the new owner of the Holden site will be announced soon.
The email by Ms Crugnale says in part: “The (expressions of interest) process has concluded and the private landowner is working through a list of prospective buyers. As the local State MP, I will be meeting the new owners given the site sits in my electorate. This is to form and build ongoing relations with them and importantly speak to the high conservation and undeniable ecological and biodiversity values to the area and wider region … to ensure the area is protected, valued and enhanced.”
The Save the Holden Bushlands Group had been lobbying for the local council and the state government to buy the site to protect endangered species, including the Southern Brown Bandicoot, Long-nosed Bandicoot, Swift Parrot, Powerful Owl, Swamp Skink, Growling Grass Frog and a range of endangered vegetation including grass trees and native orchids.
Much of the flora and fauna inside the Holden site has been preserved for decades. Since 1957 it has been a secure facility used to test top-secret future vehicles – and has not succumbed to nearby urban sprawl, which has forced animals out of the area.
The environmental group originally wanted the 877-hectare site – which is deemed a “vital bio-link corridor” in the region – to be preserved as a national park.
However, the sale process happened too quickly for local council and the state government to intervene or appropriately assess the proposal to acquire the land.
A spokesman for the Save the Holden Bushlands Group, Tim O’Brien, an author, wine maker, and former motoring journalist (pictured below, right), told CarAdvice: “We think it’s an opportunity lost for the state and local government, who we had hoped would step in to buy this precious and environmentally significant habitat.”
Mr O’Brien added: “We are not unhappy that the site will employ a lot of people in the local area and bring jobs and activity to the region. But we hope the new owners will be able to work with us and the appropriate authorities to preserve the high value ecological allotment in the eastern half of the property.”
Mr O’Brien said more than half the Holden Lang Lang test track site – “1200 to 1300 of the 2100 acres” – was crucial for protecting certain endangered species and had been left largely untouched by Holden since 1957.
He said the entire eastern half of the site is “part of an important bio-link corridor from Lang Lang to Grantville” and was crucial for the protection of local endangered animals.