Muscle Car Mania

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-By John Boley

Holden Special Vehicles, the performance and racing arm of Holden, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Until recently it was headed by an international motorsport personality, Tom Walkinshaw, who died in December 2010.

Tom was a Scot with a strong racing and production pedigree (he was also the owner of Gloucester rugby union club in the UK). He raced Formula Ford and F3 before finding great success pedalling touring cars, winning the European touring car championship before founding, in 1976, Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) in the UK.

TWR prepared cars for racing teams including the Jaguars that won the Le Mans 24-Hours and the Sports Car World Championship, and by the 1990s was bringing in more than £250m a year. Walkinshaw, who was once described as a “human Rottweiler”, was determined to achieve similar success in Formula 1. He was engineering director of Benetton when it won the F1 World Championship before moving to the Arrows team, which eventually collapsed under the weight of litigation with drivers and sponsors, taking TWR under with it.

Undaunted, Walkinshaw looked to Australia, where he began an association with the racing division of Holden. In 2007 he acquired 50 per cent of Holden Racing Team and the following year assumed full ownership.

In fact, TWR was building race cars for Holden as far back as the mid-80s and late in 1987, in response to a tender from Holden, it won the contract to produce and market a range of specially modified, high performance road vehicles based initially off the Commodore platform.

The first HSV facility was located in Notting Hill, Victoria and the company’s first year of production was under 1,000 units but by 1994 its output had doubled. With this growth, the company sought new premises and in 1995 the company moved its HQ to Clayton, Victoria.

The company had launched its first vehicle in March 1988 in the form of the Holden Commodore VL SS Group A, known unofficially as the “Walkinshaw”. Almost 25 years later, HSV regularly sells over 3,500 vehicles domestically per year and is rapidly approaching the production of its 75,000th vehicle. HSV also has a dealer network in New Zealand and sells into the U.K.

The Walkinshaw Group also manages, on licence, the Holden Racing Team (HRT) – the official factory team of Holden Motor Company – and manages Supercheap Auto Racing. We talked to HSV about its operations and got some answers from former Olympian Tim Jackson, General Manager, Marketing and Communications.

What sets HSV apart from the competition?

“Its entrepreneurial spirit – a spirit fostered by its founder, the late Tom Walkinshaw. This spirit is demonstrated by the diversity of our operations. There’s HSV, Walkinshaw Performance (high performance automotive after-market specialists), Walkinshaw Sports (supplier of golf equipment and apparel), Walkinshaw Racing and HSVi (bespoke products and fitment services developed and offered to the Holden dealer network). We believe no other Australian car company lives as close to its customers as we do. When HSV was established, we created a unique Australian automotive segment. Given our strong links with our racing arm, motorsport is intrinsically woven into every facet of the HSV business.”

It was starkly evident at the recent Detroit Auto Show that the American love affair with the V8 is waning. Is that trend about to follow to Australasia?

“While the ‘large car’ segment of the Australian automotive market has softened in recent years, demand for high performance V8s in Australia has continued strongly – demand which, we are confident, is sustainable. While the market is ‘niche’, the owner base is very passionate, with HSV Owners Clubs operating in each state. HSV also established, sometime back, the exclusive “Frequent Buyers Club”, membership of which is restricted to those who have owned three or more new HSVs. We currently have more than 600 “Frequent Buyers Club” members with club benefits including a joining gift, motor show passes, V8 Supercar pit tours, VIP tours of the HSV facility and the member’s name displayed on the FBC membership honour board at HSV HQ.”

Is there a special workplace culture within HSV?

“The workforce at HSV could best be described as ‘passionate’ – passionate about the product and passionate about the brand. HSV is a very nimble organisation that marries its passion for great product with the strong return-on-investment culture. HSV actively encourages innovative and distinctive ideas. We focus on partnerships, which allows us to push technology boundaries while retaining a ‘value for money’ proposition in comparison to more expensive performance alternatives. The alignment with the racing arm of the business engenders a true ‘team’ environment and delivers the technical expertise to provide a superb on-road experience.

“HSV has a strong culture of cross-functional team work. This effectively means that all key decision making prioritises the business needs but also takes into account individual departments and the adjustments that they may need to make for business success. Importantly, the decision making is fast and the culture is one of action orientation. With the customer at the core of everything we do, we also deliver what we believe to be a highly attractive customer relationship program to reward their loyalty and deliver a unique ‘HSV experience.'”

What policies are in place to meet the challenges of changing social trends and tastes and to retain enthusiasm for the brand?

“HSV has three brand pillars which remain at the core of what we do and how we focus our resources: race-bred performance; bold and distinctive design; and innovative technology. Our customers are the source of our inspiration and we make sure we listen closely to them and deliver to their expectations. We are also cognisant of the need to grow the ‘next generation’ of HSV enthusiasts and are investing in activities and events that will help grow their passion.

“We have also recently launched an all-new brand campaign to communicate the HSV brand evolution. The campaign aims to build on our well established credentials for race-bred performance, bold styling and innovative technology. We aim to demonstrate our brand values through an evolved positioning based around ‘freedom’ and the way in which HSV vehicles can be part of our customer’s lifestyle.

“To assist us in communicating this ‘freedom’ positioning, HSV is using four brand ambassadors in many of its communications: V8 Super Car champion Garth Tander; dare-devil free style motocross rider Robbie Maddison; three time Rip Curl Pro winning surfer Joel Parkinson; and Australian rock legend Ian Moss. In addition to being passionate about HSV, these Australians have been chosen because they all demonstrate the HSV brand attitude and values and lead lifestyles that cover all the key styles of the HSV range.”

Can you give details of some of the technology that goes into the vehicles?

“Our strong working relationships with, for example, Delphi and Motec, have enabled us to bring to market two innovative technologies that deliver significant product differentiation and consumer benefit – MRC and EDI respectively.” In 2006, HSV invested over $4.5 million in developing the Magnetic Ride Control (MRC), a unique, semi-active suspension system for its “E” Series. MRC is a radical form of “adaptive damping” that uses a silicone-based, magneto-rheological fluid that constantly adjusts suspension damping every 1/1000th of a second to achieve the best balance of ride comfort and handling. This development is a clear demonstration of HSV’s commitment to technological innovation which, in this case, delivers a compelling consumer (ride & handling) benefit.

Introduced with the launch of the “E Series 3” range, Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) is a touch-screen performance data interface that provides the driver with intelligent information regarding various vehicle functions such as gauge selection, vehicle dynamics and performance, G forces and telemetry information for engine RPM and gear position. It even features a “Race” page which utilises GPS technology to set tracks and record lap times. All of Australia’s major race circuits are already programmed into the system. As with MRC, EDI is a technological advancement that demonstrates the race-track heritage built into every HSV.

Developed in conjunction with Orbital Engineering and unique to HSV, Liquid Propane Injection (LPI) is the latest generation in automotive LPG fuel systems and is targeted at those who have already bought into the idea of LPG as an alternative fuel system but are dissatisfied with the compromises they need to make in terms of engine performance. With the HSV system, injecting LPG into the engine as a liquid rather than a vapour allows for cooler combustion and better fuel metering. The result is reduced running costs as well as reduced emissions but without the compromise on engine performance. With HSV’s LPI system, there is absolutely no loss in power or torque from the LS3 V8 engine. As with MRC, this feature demonstrates HSV’s commitment to innovative technologies that deliver a strong consumer benefit.

What’s going on at present – that you can tell us about?

“We are firmly of the belief that the only way to truly appreciate the exhilarating levels of power, performance, handling and technology of an HSV is to drive one. With this in mind, the company will launch the first ever “HSV Drive Experience” program in March. Under the guidance of Cameron McConville and featuring a host of drivers with V8 Supercar backgrounds, this driver training program will give the public the opportunity to explore the potential of the HSV range in a safe and controlled environment under the guidance of some of Australia’s leading driving instructors. The programme will run in all states until July.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 6:45 AM AEDT