Tone-deaf (adj.) — having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste.
— Merriman-Webster Dictionary
There is a lot of — no, way, way, way too much — tone deafness:
- In the political world (I’m not even going there).
- On the internet (consider the reaction Garth Brooks performing in Detroit while wearing a Lions football jersey with his friend and former college buddy Barry Sanders’ name on the back).
- Even in sports (case in point: Major League Baseball’s mishandling of the Houston Astros’ sign stealing).
- Also, in the corporate board rooms, at least in General Motors’ corporate board room.
Apparently no longer able or willing — or both — to compete with the world’s other leading automakers, GM recently announced it was retreating from operations in countries which require cars to have their steering wheels on the right side of the passenger compartment. The move meant the demise of GM’s Australian subsidiary, Holden.
Holden dates to 1856 and saddle maker J.A. Holden & Co. It was J.A.’s grandson, Edward, who got the company involved with automobiles, at first doing upholstery repairs but soon car bodies to fit a variety of chassis, and then vehicle production.
GM absorbed Holden during the Depression and merged it with GM Australia.
Though part of GM, Holden wanted to develop uniquely Australian vehicles. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile notes that after World War II, GM planned to sell American-style vehicles to Australians only to have Laurene Hartnett, Holden’s managing director, go off on his own and produce a series of vehicles that would dominate the Aussie automotive market for several decades.
Holdens also did very well, thank you, on the race track, and the subsidiary’s expertise in engineering and design not only gave Americans the last Pontiac GTO coupe and G8 high-performance sedan, but did much to bring the Chevrolet Camaro back to life earlier this century.
Pity we also didn’t get the Holden Ute, that later-day El Camino with a Corvette V8 under its hood. (I drove one for nearly a week once while doing research in Australia for a book project and basically found the Ute to be a Corvette with a pickup bed in the back.)
But now I guess all of that is for naught with GM’s decision to leave Australia.
Except the saga really isn’t done.
I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago about Holden’s expertise in automotive design. During that research trip to Australia, I got to visit the Holden styling studio at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne, to meet the designers to see some of the amazing work they were doing.
That work was so impressive that when Ed Welburn retired as global head of GM Design, that job – which traced back to the likes of Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell – was given to Mike Simcoe, an Australian and long-time Holden designer and executive.
In the past few days, Australia’s WhichCar Network of automotive magazines and websites reports that a decision is yet to be made about what to do with the concept cars designed at Holden, and that Simcoe is among those fighting to keep those cars, as well as Holden’s collection of historic Holden production vehicles, in Australia.
It is possible that the cars could be sold off — what collector wouldn’t want the Efijy or Hurricane or Torana GTR-X? — or perhaps moved to the GM Heritage Center, the company’s private collection in a Detroit suburb. But the hope in Australia is that the Fisherman’s Bend facility could be preserved as a Holden museum and archive, or at least that the cars would be moved to the National Motor Museum near Adelaide, where some 400 cars and motorcycles are housed, or perhaps put on a tour of various museums around Australia.
Here’s hoping the powers that be in the tall, cylindrical, castle-tower fortress buildings that house GM HQ in downtown Detroit will listen to their chief designer. And should Mike Simcoe be successful in his effort to save the Holden concepts for his native land, as his Aussie mates would put it, “good onya.”