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Ending 2013: Holden folds; what future for industry?

  • December 17th, 2013
  • Posted by EU Australia

Holden FJGlobal trends came home hard with the winding up of production in Australia by General Motors Holden,  set to be complete by 2017 – announced on 11.12.13.



Holden FJ UteThe American car maker took over the small home-grown Holden company and began mass production at the end of the 1940s, leading a revolution with the onset of affluent times.

The initial Holden idea had been for a hardy vehicle to cope with  “Australian conditions” of the time, designed for performance against dust, heat and corrugated gravel roads, but lacked the extensive know-how and investment power of General Motors; and a modest hint of chromium glamour from the design and marketing departments, to appeal to the consuming public.

If most Australian families did not have a motor car in 1950, most did by 1960, more likely a Holden FJ model (see pictures) than anything else.

Children of the era would chant the General Motors Holden company slogan, from the radio: “A link in the chain of Australia’s progress; a partner in Australia’s future.”

The Holden initiative had been promoted by the post-war Chifley Labor government with the objective of building up an independent manufacturing industry and creating jobs.

Car manufacturing had a patriotic flavour; it had bipartisan support over succeeding decades, but with increasing resistance by governments to maintaining production subsidies, especially those on the conservative side.

Other makers using original Australian designs, or running assembly plants for overseas models, entered Australia, including British Leyland, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault and Volkswagen.


Holden’s move was the second such blow in just over six months.

Ford falcom heritage Ford Falcon new Ford, a consistent and major contributor, setting up in Australia even before GMH, pitted its successive generations of Falcon sedans (see pictures) against the Holden Commodores, though ultimately not extending its locally-made range nor building an export trade out of Australia like its main competitors. It announced last May it would be closing down production in Australia in three years’ time.

The decision this year by Ford and GMH to go will take out some 5000 jobs, with a multiplier effect throughout manufacturing, both on employment and manufacturing expertise.

Reasons for the change were an accumulation of mainly market trends: Australia’s small local population; its tradition of constructing larger sedans, displaced increasingly by small cars or SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles – “four-wheel drives”); the entry of stiff competition from imports, especially with the lifting of tax-based protection since the 1980s; the popularity of overseas models, whether prestige European cars, or small cars and SUVs made in Europe and Asia; a strong Australian dollar making imports cheap and export less competitive;  and the convulsion of the global financial crisis, hitting parent companies especially in the United States.

General Motors, just recently out of bankruptcy from that time, had pulled out of selling its Australian or European-made Chevrolet or Pontiac brands. (News reporting on the announced closure this month has turned up information on a car designed to be made in Australia and China, expected to still go into production  in  that country, as a Buick).

At the end of 2013 Toyota remains the only company still producing and committed to continued manufacturing in Australia. It is the market leader, as it is elsewhere, and has built an export business based on the Australian plant, notably for the Middle East. It has been embroiled in a court dispute with its workforce over future terms of employment and the new Australian government, opposed as a point of policy, or philosophy, to industry subsidisation, says it has no plans to expand financial assistance to the remaining player.


Pictures: Ford Australia, Shannons, Wikipedia