Done Down Under: GM to Kill Off 164-year-old Holden Brand

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
done down under gm to kill off 164 year old holden brand

A car brand that emerged from a saddlery company in 1908 will disappear from the Australian and New Zealand markets, General Motors announced late Sunday.

Parent of the Holden brand since 1931, GM said production would cease by the end of 2020, spelling the end of a marque that once fielded the powerful rear-drive Commodore sedan and Ute — the ANZAC version of the El Camino.

The automaker cited the needless expense of creating right-hand drive vehicles for the relatively small market as the reason for the brand’s death. The last domestically-produced Holden rolled off an Australian assembly line in 2017; all Holden-badged vehicles now hail from elsewhere. GM, currently in the midst of a global streamlining effort, said it failed to find a solution that would keep the brand alive in a market that generates less than 1 percent of the world’s sales volume.

“Through its proud 160-year history, Holden has not only made cars, it has been a powerful driver of the industrialization and advancement of Australia and New Zealand,” said GM International Operations Senior Vice President Julian Blissett in a statement.

“Over recent years, as the industry underwent significant change globally and locally, we implemented a number of alternative strategies to try to sustain and improve the business, together with the local team.”

A detailed analysis of what it would take to develop a new generation of Holden vehicles failed to turn up a business case for GM, apparently.

“After comprehensive assessment, we regret that we could not prioritize the investment required for Holden to be successful for the long term in Australia and New Zealand, over all other considerations we have globally,” Blissett said, adding, “This decision is based on global priorities and does not reflect the hard work, talent and professionalism of the Holden team.”

The automaker’s Maven ridesharing service and Holden financial arm will also wrap up operations in the market. As the loss of domestic production three years ago spelled the end of 2,900 jobs, there’s not much workforce left to shed. BBC reports that GM’s exit from the right-hand-drive market will bring about the loss of some 600 jobs, with an aftersales team remaining in place.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, after hearing the news, that he was “disappointed but not surprised.”

“Australian taxpayers put millions into this multinational company. They let the brand just wither away on their watch. Now they are leaving it behind,” he said.

GM aims to wrap up the brand in a “dignified” manner, claiming it will honor warranties and servicing agreements while providing parts for at least a decade. Some Holden dealers will continue life as dedicated service centers.

The American automaker won’t entirely cede the market to rivals, however. In a statement, GM said it will “focus its growth strategy in Australia and New Zealand on the specialty vehicles business” — meaning sports cars and pickups swapped to RHD via aftermarket conversions, by the sounds of it.

Obviously, the demise of a quintessentially Australian brand prompted an outpouring of nostalgia and bitterness, with fans taking to social media to reminisce about Holdens of bygone years. Perhaps the most poignant tribute came from a competitor (that also wrapped domestic production in recent years):

1/1 – All of us here at Ford Australia are saddened to hear the news that Holden will cease operations. Holden is an iconic brand that holds a special place in the heart of many Australians, and has done so much to shape the Australian automotive industry and the country…

— Ford Australia (@FordAustralia) February 17, 2020

2/2 – Its vehicles have been worthy competitors both on road and on the racetrack. To our friends at Holden, thank you for keeping us on our toes and inspiring us to keep aiming higher. We will miss you.

— Ford Australia (@FordAustralia) February 17, 2020

[Images: General Motors]

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Feb 17, 2020

    Eventually like Nissan the discounting will not be enough. After a while the image of crappy vehicles will catch up with GM and few will buy their vehicles at any price. Shrinking GM's market is only good in the short term and eventually there will be little left to cut.

  • Hogey74 Hogey74 on Feb 18, 2020

    This has been coming since the mid 2000s. At that time, Holden, despite it's small size was the most profitable division... GM was and remains a poorly run behemoth of a company. In their own time, a bunch of designers taped out a coupe version of the RWD Commodore and made a prototype in secret. They also developed a four door, 4WD ute version. GM management to their credit OKed production and even tried to sell them in the US as Pontiacs. The Commodore in it's final iteration was a contender for a US wide police car tender and the police wanted it... yeah no. GM is what killed Holden. Those same designers that produced a string of variants on a shoestring also designed a new mid-sized car that would have sold in the changed market GM wasn't able to see. You know - expensive fuel and higher expectations of quality. They killed the idea. They did promote the head designer to run that division globally but allowed a storied company to wilt and die. All while demanding corporate welfare decade after decade. A Holden was my first car but after driving my first old Japanese car I started to realize that American cars were simply inferior in design and quality. And customer service was famously bad - it's as if they were doing us a favour selling us their cars. Yeah, nah. The truth is that US car manufacturers have been coasting for decades, along with other sectors. Telsa is impressive but only because they're catching up on the decades of stalled development as typified by GM. Yeah I am angry. I still miss my old Holden. I did my first hand brake turns and power slides in that thing. I drove it 80km to an INXS concert with no brakes in 1993. Just gears and park brake. Dress this up however you want. It's a monumental corporate failure and Holden is a minor example in the end. Hundreds of Billions of worth and good will have been thrown away and it was all dumb people making dumb decisions.

  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.
  • K. R. Worth noting that the climate control is shared with (donated to) the Audi 5000 of the mid-late 1980s.
  • Sloomis Looks like 108,000 miles to me, not 80,000. Not much better though...