“We have arrangements with other organisations that do (have the ability to series produce the LAPD prototype), but our involvement would be for the installation and fit-out of what we call the turn-key technology for that vehicle,” said Mr Bahr.
“At this stage it’s a concept to be sent to the US for acceptance or otherwise for suitability, but we have been working with LAPD for the last few years, sharing information on the research we have been doing. So it’s about adopting integrated solutions that they’re already familiar with on a new platform.
“We are looking forward to developing this vehicle with the LAPD and Australian industry. This project will break down the barriers between agencies worldwide, leading to a common platform to provide maximum benefit to those who are charged with protecting our communities.”
Chevrolet Commodore ready to go
GoAuto understands that if a deal is struck with the LAPD, which is regarded within Holden as a test-case for other US police jurisdictions, the LAPD vehicle would most likely be badged as a Chevrolet – not a Pontiac.
In turn, it is understood that could lead to retail exports to the US of the Commodore, which finally appears to have gained ‘traction’ in the US market despite a recent lack of promotion and could be sold as a performance model within the Chevrolet Performance Division, which is the US equivalent of HSV.
When asked whether GM would shift any of Pontiac's models to other brands, GM CEO Fritz Henderson said: "Solstice... no. Vibe we're talking with Toyota about and may run it into the 2010 model year as one of the last Pontiacs remaining." But he made no reference to the G8.
Holden already exports a left-hand drive Chevrolet-badged Commodore to the Middle East - and South Africa - as the Lumina, which means the basic modifications needed to prepare the car for sale as a Chevy in the US have already been done.
Holden has also exported a police car based on the previous-generation platform architecture to the Middle East, New Zealand and elsewhere.
If approved for export, the Chev-badged Commodore could be positioned above the Barina-based Chev Aveo and the mid-sized Malibu, and sold either alongside or instead of the full-size front-drive Impala sedan, which is due to be replaced in 2012.
G8 opportunity lost
Mr Whiffin said Monday night’s announcement, which confirmed the phase-out of the G8 by the end of 2009 even though production has effectively already ceased, was a major blow for Holden.
The move to axe GM's 83-year-old Pontiac brand, as part of the former world number one auto-maker's second viability plan for US treasury, spells the loss of nearly $1 billion in potential exports for Holden, which invested $77 million in the G8 program.
“What came out overnight was that GM intends to eliminate Pontiac from its portfolio by the end of 2010 to concentrate on its four key brands: Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC,” he said this week.
“GM are obviously not denying that fact they’ve had to make some tough decisions in terms of planning during the global economic crisis and clearly this is one of those tough decisions.
“The impact for us is on the Pontiac G8 export program, so what we intend to do in a practical sense is to work with Pontiac to manage that as we move forward.
“The announcement just happened in the last 12 hours or so, so we’re still trying to get our arms around the specifics of it, but it’s a process that we’ll work through with them.
“In terms of the emotion of it I guess it would be pretty hard to deny the fact that we’re disappointed. The G8 program was a ripper. It was a great car, it was exceptionally well received and it got some fantastic reviews in the States.
“But while we’re disappointed we fully understand the rationale for the decision,” he said.
G8 production already halted
Ironically, this week’s axing of the Pontiac brand and by extension the G8 sedan follows the best month of sales recorded by the Australian-built model since it was launched in the US in March 2008.
Pontiac sold 15,002 examples of the G8 in the US last year, averaging 1455 sales a month, but in February this year sales surged to 2707 - the first time sales exceeded Holden’s forecast of 2500 monthly sales.
Some 2939 were sold in March, making it the best sales month so far for the G8, when it out-sold the mid-size G6 to be Pontiac's best-selling retail model.
However, in an indication of how many G8s are still residing in US showrooms and shipping yards, Holden said it shipped almost double that number of G8s during 2008 – about 36,500.
Mr Whiffin confirmed Pontiac production had virtually been halted at Holden’s Elizabeth plant in South Australia by January, following a general slump in US in the final quarter of 2008.
“It’s was going gangbusters for the first three quarters of last year, then along with everything else fell off a cliff in the last quarter of 2008 when the global economic crisis really hit hard,” he said.
“The US market basically halved as the global economic crisis hit in the last quarter of last year. We saw those numbers really coming off very quickly and we moved last year to align production volumes with demand so we weren’t really being caught totally by surprise by this.
“Effectively we’d already stopped building G8s. Without being specific of the outcome for Pontiac we’d already seen the writing on the wall in terms of what was happening to the market over there, so production had virtually trailed away to zero.”
Mr Whiffin said the Pontiac announcement would have no effect on Holden’s workforce because the restructuring announcement it made earlier this month had already taken into account a virtual idling of G8 production.
Holden will cut one of its two manufacturing shifts at Elizabeth from May, with the company’s 3150 production workers offered a choice of one-week-on, one-week-off or fortnight-on, fortnight-off shifts in an effort to avoid retrenchments as Holden cuts production to 310 vehicles a day – about half of its normal two-shift capacity of 620.
“In terms of jobs, despite the fact we’ve only known about this for half a day, we don’t think there will be any job losses over there at all,” said Mr Whiffin.
“With the production volumes and production scheduling at Elizabeth, we’ve spent a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears trying to align that with demand and it’s been exceptionally difficult on our suppliers and our workforce over there.
“The approach that’s been taken thus far has been a month-by-month process. We forecast a month ahead and then we try and align that with what’s happening in the market and it’s been very ad-hoc.
“There have been a significant number of down days but we’ve only been able to forecast them a month in advance which makes it incredibly difficult for our suppliers to align with that and incredibly difficult for our own people trying to live a normal life when they might be working a week and they might be off for 10 days then back for a fortnight.
“It’s impossible to live your life like that because you can’t really, for example, organise childcare, take a second job or take a holiday with your family because shifts have been all over the place.
“So what we announced a fortnight ago was that we would move from a two-shift two-crew operation to a two-crew one-shift operation and that’s really about bringing continuity into the production schedule over there so that people can build their lives around that,” he said.
Asked if this month’s restructuring plan would be the last in the short-term despite the latest GM restructuring announcement, Mr Whiffin said: “Nobody has a crystal ball in this environment so it’s difficult to give cast-iron guarantees, but that’s precisely right.”
Mr Whiffin said he was not aware of any further white-collar job cuts in either design or engineering that could stem from the Pontiac announcement.