Exclusive: Secret bid to save Holden factory and Aussie Commodore

A Belgian automotive entrepreneur with ties to General Motors is behind a secret plan to acquire GM Holden’s Elizabeth assembly plant and continue to build the current generation Commodore beyond the scheduled closure date in late 2017.

The plan has been brewing quietly behind the scenes for two years since GM announced it was closing the South Australian factory and ceasing production of the locally-designed and developed Commodore family.

The businessman who has taken an interest in Elizabeth and the Commodore is Guido Dumarey (pictured), the owner of the Punch Group, also sometimes referred to as Punch International.

Within his business portfolio is a former GM transmission plant now known as Punch Powerglide Strasbourg, which he took over in January 2013 and supplies the 6L45 automatic to Holden for V6 versions of the Commodore.

It is through this connection that Dumarey is understood to have developed a detailed understanding of the Elizabeth plant, the Commodore line-up, the locally-developed Zeta architecture that underpins it, the support provided to the local industry by government via the Automotive Transformation Scheme (ATS) and the recent collapse of the local manufacturing industry and the reasons for it.

Described in various reports as a “maverick” and an “outsider”, Dumarey is a car and motor racing fanatic now in his mid-50s who has a reputation as a tough operator with a talent for taking over ailing companies and rehabilitating them.

However, that has not always been a successful strategy. The wheel company BBS declared insolvency when he owned it in 2010 and an earlier iteration of Punch foundered in the GFC. His purchase of the Strasbourg plants was his return to the auto industry big time

Dumarey is believed to have made his first enquiries about buying the Elizabeth assembly plant and its tooling and continuing to build the Commodore sedan, wagon and utility in 2013. He had more meetings in 2014 with the government and was in Canberra as recently as last week.

It is believed the Liberal-National government of former prime minister Tony Abbott showed little interest in the pitch despite at least two visits from Dumarey.

But with Abbott, former treasurer Joe Hockey and former industry minister Ian Macfarlane all replaced by new PM Malcolm Turnbull and a more pro-industry group of ministers, Dumarey and Punch may get a more sympathetic hearing.

The independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon is understood to be a supporter of Dumarey. But neither Dumarey or Xenophon would comment on the record when contacted by motoring.com.au.

But in brief asides before ending the conversations, both men stressed the project was at an early and delicate stage and bringing it to fruition would be a massive challenge.

In a supplied statement Holden denied any contact from Dumarey or any representative. But a Holden representative could not rule out the possibility he had made enquiries further up the chain within General Motors.

“Holden has not been approached by Punch International, nor any representatives, regarding the Adelaide factory. The future of the HVO site remains a work in progress and any discussions must be held confidential in confidence. Holden is focused on launching 24 new models by 2020, including the next-generation Commodore, to provide the best vehicle line-up in Holden’s history,” the statement read.

While Holden might be convinced to sell the Elizabeth plant to Dumarey, acquiring the tooling and GM intellectual property embedded in the Zeta architecture and current VFII Commodore would be a far more difficult negotiation.

And the car would not be called Commodore – that name is being applied to the imported Opel-derived model that arrives in 2018 – let alone a Holden.

However, Dumarey at least has the advantage of being well known to GM. After a five-year negotiation he purchased its ailing Strasbourg automatic transmission plant in January 2013, invested at least 220 million Euros into the business and has transformed it into a highly successful operation.

Punch Powerglide Strasbourg builds both ZF and GM transmissions. BMW is its biggest individual customer.

Despite all the potential and significant hurdles, Dumarey is believed to have a comprehensive business plan for the future of the plant and the Commodore.

With the Aussie dollar now down in the US 70c range, motoring.com.au understands exports have been targeted as crucial to success. The utility would be finally built in left-hand drive and exported, a project that has fallen over more than once in the past. A turbo-diesel engine would also be part of the project – again something Holden investigated but never carried through to production.