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Minister says that Holden is secure as parent GM seeks an urgent bail-out in the US


By DAVID HASSALL 17 November 2008

SOUTH Australian treasurer Kevin Foley has failed to get an audience with General Motors executives in Detroit to discuss Holden’s future, but federal industry minister Kim Carr said he has been given assurances that the troubled US car giant will retain its Australian production operation.

GM is strapped for cash as it fights to stave off bankruptcy but says it has no plans to sell off any of its overseas subsidiaries or brands such as Holden and Saab.

Mr Foley told the South Australian parliament last Wednesday that he had sought talks with GM chief executive Rick Wagoner while in the US the previous week but had not been successful because senior management “have been somewhat preoccupied with matters of survival”.

“I will be back in the United States in January and the intention is to meet with senior management at that time,” Mr Foley said.

But Mr Carr, in Adelaide selling the benefits of his new $6.2 billion car plan, said that Mr Wagoner had told him that GM remains positive about the future of its plant in Elizabeth.

“He has made the point very, very clear to me how important it is that we not only keep plants of this quality within the GM family but also that we have a very strong supply base to ensure the ongoing prosperity of the company here in Australia,” Mr Carr told reporters on Thursday.

Speaking to Automotive News in the US, the GM chief said that Hummer was the only brand GM was looking to sell and that there has been some interest.

“We’ve got some other assets we’re looking at selling as well – but not brands,” said Mr Wagoner.

He also said there was no thought of selling GM China or Opel in Europe because those operations were too important for the future health and development of the company globally.

Mr Wagoner defended the US car-makers, saying that the industry is on its knees because the market has fallen to 11 million units due to the credit system failing, not because the manufacturers were suddenly building poor products.

“Under these extraordinary circumstances, we do need funding support and we need to move now,” he said, again calling on the government to take immediate action.

“I just don’t see what’s gained by waiting to address that. It seems like we ought to be addressing that right away to minimise the damage that we would sustain that might be longer-term in nature.”

Asked if he would like the current ‘lame duck’ congress to act before President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated on January 20, Mr Wagoner said “that would be terrific”.

“Action this year is critical and, given the change-over, the (Bush) administration’s lame duck session would seem like the right time and the important time to address this.”

GM expects to reduce its $2 billion-a-month “burn rate” by slashing costs and selling assets, but will still run out of cash by the middle of next year unless the government provides funding.

The company has also delayed a number of model programs, including the much-needed new Saab 9-5 (which is now scheduled for 2010) and the Cadillac CTS Coupe (which was to have been launched at the Los Angeles auto show later this week).

In an interesting twist, the European Union has threatened to complain to the World Trade Organisation over unfair trade support if the government backs a rescue plan for any of the US car-makers.

Back in Australia, Mr Foley told the SA parliament that, despite being stonewalled in Detroit, he remains confident that Holden’s Elizabeth plant will survive.

“It is clear that the Bush administration, the Congress and the Obama administration will not see the American car industry fail, just as the Rudd Government here will not see the car industry fail – and for South Australia that is good news,” he said.

Link: http://www.goauto.com.au/mellor/mellor.nsf...A257504001EEEEB

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