Holden chief revs up cost-cutting drive

Holden chief executive Mike Devereux says "everything is on the table" when it comes to stripping back costs at the company's ailing manufacturing plants.

Holden chief executive Mike Devereux says "everything is on the table" when it comes to stripping back costs at the company's ailing manufacturing plants.

But he refused to go into any detail on what the car maker was planning.

Holden announced this week it would try to slash wages at its car factories, warning that its future in the country was not guaranteed.

It has been in negotiations with union representatives on how to shed further costs from the loss-making plants.

"We will be looking at every single part of the equation," Mr Devereux said after a Q&A session at the American Chamber of Commerce.

"The application of labour is one of those things. Everything is on the table."

Mr Devereux said labour cost cuttings could include "work practices, shift patterns, how much money per hour people make. Everything".

But he dismissed calls for his own wage cut, saying he had already had one in 2009.

"We benchmark every single job in the company," he said. "Mine is significantly below average."

Holden has stepped up pressure on the federal Coalition to commit to more funding for the car industry after Ford's announcement last month that it would close its car manufacturing plants entirely by 2016.

The Gillard government has committed to an assistance package worth $1.5 billion between 2011 and 2015, and $1 billion over the next five years.

The Coalition says it will cut the first round of funding to $1 billion, but it has also pledged to leave the second round of funding in place.

Mr Devereux would not say what amount of assistance the car maker needed to guarantee production of Holden cars remained in Australia, but said assistance remained low compared with other countries.

The struggling manufacturing sector is still the biggest beneficiary of assistance in Australia, with more than $7 billion spent on helping it in the past financial year.

Car makers are among the biggest receivers of this funding, with the sector getting more than $1 billion last year, including tax concessions and direct funding.

Mr Devereux said the company's future in Australia also depended on the existence of at least one competitor, otherwise its material and production costs would be too high.

"If Toyota wasn't here, I couldn't be," he said. "We're at the point now where we can't go much beyond this."

Holden manufactures much of its cars in Thailand and imports them into Australia. Mr Devereux would not say whether it would move its manufacturing out of Australia into that country.

He said the company's new Adelaide plant, which was going to help manufacture new-model Cruze and Commodore vehicles, was running at a loss.

"I have to be able to turn that around and get it to break even," he said. "Labour is part of it but also the application of electricity, logistics."

Coalition industry spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella, who has been in discussions with Mr Devereux, said on Wednesday that if Tony Abbott won the federal election, she was confident the car industry would survive.

"We think there can be a viable auto sector, but there needs to be a change in funding guidelines to look at long-term viability of the industry."

"No car company has said to me they are going to leave the country because we have reduced the fund by $500 million," she said.

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