By on February 17, 2020

2016 Holden Commodore

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):

[Images: General Motors]

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67 Comments on “Done Down Under: GM to Kill Off 164-year-old Holden Brand...”


  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    There are a lot of reasons why GM and Ford have exited Australia. But it boils down to another example of how the two – but particularly GM – have developed track records of withdrawing from any market or market segment that presents a challenge. Yes, yes – they’re trying to save money for investment in EVs and autonomous driving. I think they are in for the shock of their lives when buyers don’t respond the way they expect.

    • 0 avatar
      mzr

      Or they just can’t be bothered to care when building anything but a truck.

    • 0 avatar
      Ce he sin

      Ford haven’t left Australia though. Manufacturing has ceased but the Ranger pickup as of 2018 was the second best selling vehicle there. The rest of their range, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      If a particular market isn’t profitable it makes sense to withdraw from that market. That’s how business works. How do you know they are only trying to save money for investment in EVs and autonomous driving? And even if that were the reason why is it OK for other companies to invest in those areas but not GM?

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        GM and Ford have stated publicly a number of times that their purpose in adjusting product lines and market strategy is to allow them to work on guaranteeing their future in “mobility.” If you’ve been paying attention, then you know that too.

        But GM, in particular, seems to have lost its way and no longer knows how to make money building and selling cars and trucks. The case of Opel is a classic example. GM owned Opel since the 1920s until a few years ago. They weren’t able to run the German business at a profit for a few decades prior to dumping it on PSA at a fire-sale price. A little more than a year later, PSA had Opel running in the black. To accomplish that in such a short period of time tells me the task wasn’t truly that difficult. It also tells me GM lacked either the skill or commitment to make Opel a success. Probably both.

        Much of American industry is full of MBAs who wreck one company after the other – always bailing out with a golden parachute. Their big sin is applying the financial business model to industrial companies – not because it’s appropriate but because it’s what Wall Street understands and what Wall Street wants. GM is a classic case.

        GM needs to clean house among its executives – starting at the top. Either that, or admit they don’t want to be in the auto business and migrate entirely over to financial and technology services.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Sad day, but the writing was on the wall when they tried to pass off a limp wristed Opel as a Commodore.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    There are few things more likely to doom any enterprise than special places in hearts.

    There is no room for nostalgia in a quantitative world increasingly optimized to destroy leisure…or as GM calls it, “global priorities”.

  • avatar
    Fleuger99

    GM seems to have great skill at taking good brands which have challenges and simply wiping them out. Holden now and Saab before. Hopefully, when the next big recession hits GM gets a taste of its own medicine when no one bails them out.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Amen to that and Steve Biro’s comment. Barra is a chip off of the old GM “Leadership” block – a less than zero. All she knows how to do is get rid of stuff that looks like its too much of a challenge to fix or improve – think Opel & Vauxhall. GM is a step away from being Pee Wee Motors.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Listen. Understand. That GM is out there. It can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity of remorse or fear and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Old GM: even if we lose money on every unit, we can produce our way to profitability.

    New GM: Managed Decline. Just keep lowering the cost by moving all component manufacture to China. Mgt. soaks GM for all it can and when the carcass is only dry bones, bankrupt the the whole shabang and the Lawyers will get the rest.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Does GM no longer build right hand drive vehicles for any other market? I understand why they’re stopping production of the Australian specific cars, but don’t they also sell plenty of rebadged Chevy’s?

    • 0 avatar
      Robotdawn

      Not really no. I wondered about this when they sold off Opel/Vauxhall. GM could justify right hand drive vehicles when they could defray costs in a couple markets, but not just Australia/NZ and 10% market share.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    So it’s the end of GM in Australia? Also, a nice tribute from Ford Australia.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Cut your way to growth!

    Eff the bailout/bankruptcy, should have sold GM to Bain Capital and let them carve it into pieces for easy sale.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      except that’s not how those sharks work. they do a leveraged buyout, saddle the purchased company with all of the debt, shove it into bankruptcy, and ride off into the sunset. Just look at what Bain Capital did to Toys R Us. It’s borderline offensive that you’d recommend they have anything to do with GM or any other car company.

      private equity should be banned, or at least put on a very short leash. The trail of destruction PE firms have left behind is staggering.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Honestly I wanted a “real” bankruptcy and if someone wanted to buy the rights to the Pontiac Brand and build them they could. If someone wanted to buy the factory that was producing the Sky/Solstice and keep going on that project they could… etc, ect…

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          a “real” Ch. 11 would have been impossible at the time. part of reorganizing is securing financing for ongoing operations while you restructure, and there was no financing to be had. Remember that the sole reason Ford avoided BK is the billions in loans Don LeClair secured a few years before the financial crisis closed everything off.

        • 0 avatar

          Dan, you know that no one would buy Pontiac. It has any value only in US and only in nostalgic sense. “Real” bankruptcy would be liquidation of GM and Chrysler and probably Ford too and all supplier base and so on and turning recession into depression.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    So there will no longer be vehicles, unique to the Australia / New Zealand market, under the Holden brand. Local production some years ago. Even moving manufacturing to lower lost locations wasn’t sufficient.

    Will GM replace Holdens with models from other markets modified for right hand drive or are they abandoning the market entirely? If the latter, it’s an admission that they can’t keep up with the competition. Somebody is building automobiles to sell there.

  • avatar
    loopy55

    Australia is a PITA market for carmakers. Driving on the left, ADR (Australian Design Rules) that are different from everywhere else, special emission regs, crappy fuel ( lots of sulpher that ruins petrol particulate filters). They need to stop thinking they are so important , fire the bureaucrats, and align with EU regs or something.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      All very true. But GM was unable to compete with other manufacturers from all over the world in Australia. Those others seem to not be daunted by the task that GM finds so difficult – RHD. So we can put GM’s withdrawal down to simply being chased out of Oz, NZ and Thailand by superior competition with better vehicles. If their market share were increasing you wouldn’t be hearing such defeatist reasons for picking up and going. GM is moaning to the effect that people aren’t rewarding them with 5 stars as loyalty for their long time presence. Why, those people should pay more for less and be happy and salute the General! But they’re not so we’re going home, where luscious big fat juicy margins are easy to achieve.

      I guess if all these inward-looking moves Barra has made recently tell us anything, it is that Americans are now on notice that they’d better buy more GM stuff to keep up those margins or Mary will discard them too and leave for Shanghai with her baubles.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnstone McTavish

      ADRs aren’t unique anymore – They’re ECE with a different letterhead, literally. They actually paste the ECE requirement onto an Australian Government legal template. As for petrol, the regs allow 50ppm of sulphur, but in actually fact all the refineries are now upgraded to produce 10ppm, which is really what is being delivered. Agree though, in theory Australia should be able to change the regs regarding fuel and emissions with the stroke of a pen.

    • 0 avatar
      Hogey74

      You are exactly wrong. Australia is hugely worthwhile. It missed the GFC, has a huge car fleet for the population size and over 1M units per year. Maybe 3 times as many brands sell here compared to the US. Ever been to England or Japan or India or Nepal? They drive on the left. South Africa too. Oz largely follows Euro emmissions, lagging by a year or two. ADR compliance is straight forward, otherwise brands wouldn’t bother.

      GM is pulling out because they’ve been incompetent for over two decades. They had multiple chances to stay number one in an excellent, cashed-up market in which they had local production and massive inter-generational good will. And they took Billions of dollars in government money.

      Fire the bureaucrats? Watch Fox much lol? Username checks out.

  • avatar

    Cut and run Barra has struck again. When the going gets tough GM starts running for the hills. Toyota and BMW do the opposite in that they try to adapt to foreign markets instead of leaving them. I should also mention GM will drop to fifth place in international sales if and when the PSA/FCA goes through. If GM continues to run from markets and cut production they will be in danger of being “too small” to survive. Maybe at this point we should just accept GM as a lost cause. When your quality and sales are even below Nissan what is the point.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The first picture confused me at first, but then I remembered that the vehicle is traveling at about Mach 1.3 – and since the vehicle is pointed generally West, we have downforce working in our favor.

    https://tinyurl.com/u87hzyt

  • avatar

    You guys have to consider the scale required in modern automaking to turn a sustainable profit. Australia and NZ combined have the population of Texas plus Delaware.

    Now imagine if those two states drove on the opposite side and had different legislation than the rest of the world. Would all automakers cater to them and build cars there? No.

    It doesn’t make business sense, so they’re dropping it. It’s a good idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Why not take a CT5 de-content it, change the body styling some, RHD design and put a V6 and a couple V8 options in it, build it in America, or the Philippines and they have a true successor to the Commodore which for years was the best selling car on the continent. Selling rebadged Opels with embarrassingly small engines, and rebadged Acadias its moronic.

      Hell the same car would be great on American shores under the Chevrolet brand. GM AU was salvageable if the right ideas were applied.

      • 0 avatar

        You just described a perfect way to throw away lots of money. This is 2020, and almost nobody buys the sedan-based 1989 type vehicle you just advocated.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The Australian market has changed over time and it’s no longer clear that anyone is interested in that type of vehicle. The segments that have been growing in Australia are (1) global pickups and (2) CUVs. If GM wanted to adapt vehicles in its global portfolio to continue competing in the Australian market instead of dropping out, the vehicles to adapt would be the Colorado/Canyon and the Equinox/Envision.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Cut-and-run might be a “good idea” in Feb 2020 but that doesn’t mean bad decisions didn’t lead them here.

      GM has poorly managed its Australian and European operations over the last 15 years and this is the corner they’ve backed themselves into. It’s cutting off a diabetic foot because they couldn’t stop eating candy.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        Ultimately, they couldn’t compete with Japanese automakers who have far better economies of scale with RHD.

        Once they decided to A) stop manufacturing in AUS, and B) divest themselves of Vauxhall, this was inevitable.

        Could they have held out longer with better management? Undoubtedly. Would RWD V8 sedans have continued to save their bacon indefinitely? Almost certainly not.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I don’t think V8 Commodores would have “saved” Holden any more than vinyl-roof Cutlass Supremes would have saved Oldsmobile.

          However GM’s ability to take best selling brands and transform them into bankrupt flotsam is troubling.

          I don’t think the proper reaction to closing down a 136 year old brand that had been the best selling thing on the continent for decades is to shrug and say “that’s the business world for you”.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            This is just the latest step for GM in the realization that they really do nothing well except affordable performance and full size trucks and SUVs (and even that is dubious lately).

            People rag on them for cutting their way to profitability but the reality is that Australia doesn’t fit with what they want to do going forward, was probably losing a ton of money, and other than sentimentality, there wasn’t much reason to stick around.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I think you’re letting GM off way too easy. Just look at Australian sales trends over the last 15 years. This is much more a result of product failures than a business decision.

            It’s been the same story with GM for my entire lifetime. Misread the market, offer half-a$$ed stuff to catch up, nuke all legacy brand equity, then surrender and lay off a bunch of people claiming that there was no other way.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            By no means do I think GM has clothed themselves in glory here. Not just in Australia, but in Europe and North America lately it seems like misstep after misstep. I place total blame on their management for the majority of this.

            With that said, look at what’s happened to auto manufacturing down under:

            Nissan – stopped production in 1992.
            Mitsubishi – stopped production in 2008.
            Ford – stopped production in 2016.
            Toyota – stopped production in 2017.
            Holden – stopped production in 2017.

            There is not a single large scale light vehicle manufacturing operation on the continent right now. Whatever problems GM had there are not unique to them, in fact they held out longest.

            Exiting the market just makes sense given its small size and the fact they (unlike the competitors above) no longer have any RHD vehicles to import. If Australia drove on the right, I would bet everything I had that GM would still be selling there.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnstone McTavish

      So how does that work for every other manufacturer that sells cars in Australia. They manage the business case quite well thankyou.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        Every other major manufacturer selling in Australia can share economies of scale for their RHD vehicles with sales in Japan, the UK, or both. Since leaving Europe recently, GM no longer can. So there’s no business case to design and engineer RHD variants just for the relatively insignificant Australian market.

        • 0 avatar
          Johnstone McTavish

          I get that. There is literally nothing other than internal incompetence preventing GM from producing a RHD and selling to all applicable market like other manufacturers do. That is my point. You telling me that a manufacturing organisation the size of GM hasn’t got the nous to be able to design and engineer a RHD variant of a new model that is desirable and profitable?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    For the most part I have bought GM vehicles for the past 45 years but I have also owned Japanese vehicles. GM is dead to me and so are Ford and FCA. I do believe at some point GM will receive another bailout and at some point it will either be sold off in pieces or the Chinese will buy them and Barra and the board will get their golden parachutes and the rest of the employees and workers will be left out. I bought a used well maintained 2012 Buick Lacrosse because I wanted the last of their full sized vehicles which are the Impala and Buick which are the last of any vehicle that GM makes that I would want. Yes I bought it used but it was a really good deal on a very low mileage and well maintained vehicle. The new Silverado is absolute garbage and GM is probably going to mess up the 2021 Colorado/Canyon.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      While at the auto show yesterday I noticed the Denali trim GMC Canyon has manual reclining seats, typically not something I would notice but I mean they want $46k for a midsize truck that has the same flimsy seat recline lever as the $21k stripper. Who approved that?

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I noticed the Denali trim GMC Canyon has manual reclining seats…

        OK now I’m going to smile everytime I see the Canyon Denali my dentist drives.

        I thought they were cheap SOBs for not making all GM power lumbars FOUR way adjustable.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    GM and Ford’s profits are generated mostly by US truck sales. If it was not for the unique regulatory conditions in the US that celebrate trucks, GM and Ford would both be nearing the end.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    At the price range of the Denali you have a right to be picky. There is a limit to how much a manufacturer can cheapen a vehicle before it effects sales. Maybe GM has reached the point where they don’t care.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    [Bad aim. Have a wonderful day!]

  • avatar
    Oldschool

    Damn! It’s like GM is having a fire sale all across the globe! I understand them getting out of weak markets from a business standpoint, especially when the majority of all their new investments are going into EV manufacturing, one has to wonder how weak the competitive nature of the company is.

    I get it, they are trying to survive and as new auto sales decline because the freaking prices on them are outrageous for a chunk of mostly cheap plastic parts, they are preparing for a serious downturn.

    Nothing GM puts out is breathtaking anymore. I mean when was the last time they truly made something amazing besides for the really cool looking C8 corvette? Their designs stink, they are rather bland and dull compared to the competition. Toyota is no better though with their wacky ugly front ends. GM also failing to adopt to all LED’s in there vehicles as standard equipment goes to show how behind they are at offering great value to its customers and keeping up with general trends. Cadillac is still lost, the Chevy brand is really only competitive in the truck segment, same for their SUV’s, Buick is pretty much a dead man walking.

    Last night I saw a new Lincoln Aviator, and from the back I thought it looked sorta Range Roverish. But man what a striking SUV from every angle. The paint had this deep deep glossy shine with zero orange peel. The proportions were just right too. The Cadillac XT6 looks so generic and bland by comparison and lacks all the little intricate details that the Lincoln has.

    So this is what we have to come to realize. GM just doesn’t seem to care as much or even bothers to push itself as it shows in all their vehicles. Ever take a look at the second row seats in the new Escalade? They are straight from the Chevy Suburban/Tahoe!! Just with nicer looking leather. The padding is the same ( park bench ass hurting thin as cardboard seats), and I guarantee you the foam density is the same too. Simply pathetic compared to the lovely Navigator with its quilted stitch 30+ way seat adjustments, and this is coming from a Cadillac guy. The arm rest are pretty pathetic too, it screams cheap.

    Basic [email protected]!%# Generic Motors is losing market share left and right. The only reason why people are buying their vehicles is because GM keeps heavily discounting them because they know their products aren’t competitive. Sad to see, but every empire eventually falls from power. GM’s prime years have been long gone.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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.

  • avatar
    Hogey74

    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.

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