Peter Hanenberger isn’t Australian, but he’s regarded as one of the brightest minds to have taken the leading role at Holden. Hanenberger, a former Opel engineer and German native, began his stint at Holden in 1976 when he ushered in new chassis dynamics to clean up the cars’ handling and precision.
He’d leave in 1982, but return to lead the brand itself in 1999 through 2003. During those years, Holden was on top of the world. The former executive received approval for the VE Commodore, rolled out an expansive strategic expansion for the brand through the Zeta platform and it was the last time Holden was the number one seller in the country. Today, it resides in fourth place behind Toyota.
Motoring sat down with the now-retired executive in Germany and he wasn’t quiet about his feelings towards GM today.
“It’s not my General Motors anymore,” he professed. “It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.” He references the sale of Opel and Saab’s eventual bankruptcy—both brands he worked with during his GM career.
As for Holden, he shamed the management that let Holden dwindle from the top, all the way to the end of local manufacturing.
“This was just pure mismanagement to let a company down like this,” he says. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Hanenberger likened GM’s strategy and global retreat to President Donald Trump’s campaign promise: America first. He sees GM as a U.S. company with fewer interests abroad than ever. But, “it’s global,” he remarked of the auto industry. “I think there will be no GM in the near-future,” he added.
It’s fair to note outside factors also contributed to Holden’s decline, but Hanenberger rightly points out missed opportunities his successors never enacted after he left the position as managing director and chairman. He said he’s at peace in his retirement, but he has no plans to visit Australia in the future.
“My mind is still full of all the beautiful things. If I come back now I think I would be disappointed.”