Satellite’s gone – Holden 1948-2020

The announcement of Holden’s retirement on February 17 should have come as no surprise, but the finality and totality of General Motors’ exit from Australia and New Zealand has made worldwide headlines.

Image: ANCAP

As of January 1 2021 GM will withdraw from the Australian and New Zealand markets, even as an importer. They will meet their statutory obligations on service and parts supports and recalls.

For more details, the official announcement can be found here:

It’s a rapid decline to oblivion, given that car production only ended at Elizabeth, South Australia in October 2017. However, the sales numbers tell it all; tenth place in the sales charts, 43,176 vehicles sold in Australia in 2019, a fall of 28.9% over the previous year.

Adding in the 11,245 New Zealand registrations, total 2019 sales come to 0.93 White Hens, to use the favoured metric.

Holden Colorado. Image:

Holden’s 2019 best seller in Australia was the Colorado pick-up, at a lowly no. 17. Its Toyota HiLux rival occupied the number one slot, and on its own outsold the entire Holden range by 4473 units.

I’ll trust the curious to do their own research on Holden’s current offerings – a rag-bag of suvs and small hatches mostly sourced from zero-tariff territories. The exception is the sorry Insignidore, which is hit with a 5% import tax as an EU product.

Rather than dwell on the downfall of an Aussie icon, let us briefly consider Holden’s happier times.

General Motors was formally established as an assembler of motor vehicles in Australia in 1926. Even before this, Holden Motor Body Builders was producing coachwork on GM brands’ chassis along with those of other manufacturers, a significant business activity owing to Australia’s punitive taxation on complete imported cars. In 1931 General Motors (Australia) Pty merged with HMBB with the new entity titled General Motors-Holdens Ltd.  The products were still sold under international GM brands; Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, Vauxhall.

Holden 48-215 Image; Classic Driver

The first car to carry the Holden name was the 48-215 sedan from late 1948. Other potential brand names which made reference to the young and optimistic nation were rejected in favour of the surname of a well-connected 19th century immigrant from Walsall, who founded the saddlery company-turned-coachworks, and whose grandson Sir Edward Holden was chairman of General Motors-Holdens Ltd until 1947.

The 48-215 was a six-seat sedan with a softly tuned overhead valve in-line six cylinder engine. It was not excessively large, nor luxuriously appointed, and its engineering was certainly not leading-edge, but robust and appropriate to the conditions in which the car would be used. Thereby the first Holden effectively set the pattern for the Universal Australian Car for the next fifty years.

Only Ford’s 1960 Falcon, Australian built, but little changed little from the US version, rattled Holden’s complacency. High import taxes and the unsuitability of Rootes and BMC cars for Australian conditions underpinned Holden’s dominance. The Kingswood and its derivatives became as much a part of the nation’s life as Australian Rules and National Pies.

Holden Kingswood HQ Image: Trade Unique Cars

The 1971-1980 HQ-HZ series are seen by many as peak Holden, and the smaller 1976-78 Torana SL/R 5000 gained legendary status.

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Their successors, the downsized Opel-derived Commodore eventually assimilated, and found its own place in the nation’s hearts, helped by the storming V8 derivatives.

Image: Prospekt

2.4 million Commodores were made from 1980 to 2017, but Senator John Button’s 1984 rationalisation plan for the car industry, which aimed to improve productivity and widen consumer choice, instead started the slow decline of Australia’s domestic car industry. By the early 1990’s the Button Plan, which led to such mutants as Toyota Lexcen-badged Commodores, and Holden Nova-branded Corollas, had been abandoned in favour of phased import tax reductions. Nissan Australia ceased manufacturing in 1992, Mitsubishi held on until 2008.

In the post-Button era, GM and Ford’s Australian satellites demonstrated little agility in the face of Japanese and Korean competition, unfettered by tax handicaps and relieved of the need to assemble locally in order to compete. Australian consumers also developed a taste for premium European imports over the ‘cashed-up Bogan’ image of the more egregious domestic products – don’t believe anything you hear about the Aussies being a classless society.

Image: Holden Special Vehicles

In the last two decades, all that maintained Australia’s domestic vehicle industry was a series of state and Commonwealth government subsidised initiatives to sustain the pretence that manufacturing still mattered.

We should not mourn Holden too deeply, and instead remember the good times. Better a quick and final departure than descent into eternal badge-engineered Zombiedom.

18 thoughts on “Satellite’s gone – Holden 1948-2020”

  1. Good morning, Robertas. That’s an interesting point you make about Holden’s downmarket ‘blue collar’ image turning away affluent and aspirational Australians. (‘Bogan’, if I understand corectly, is a term of abuse analogous to ‘pikey’ or ‘chav’ in the UK.)

    More widely, it is extraordinary to see the once mighty GM in wholesale retreat, having first given up on Europe and now Australasia. I’m currently re-reading Bob Lutz’s 2011 memoir ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’ which charts the decline of GM from the mid 1970’s and describes his efforts to address the underlying causes as Vice-Chairman from 2001 to 2010. It’s a fascinating read and I hope to use it as the basis for some contributions to DTW in due course.

  2. It´s rather pathetic that a firm the size of GM can´t sell cars from somewhere in the world in Australia even if they can´t make them there. I am pretty sure a quick search of “cars sold in Australia” will reveal a longish list of cars from Europe and Japan and, indeed the USA. Well, it´s no great tragedy in the grand scheme of things, is it? Is there any sign Ford will throw in a towel?

    1. Richard – you rightly question why GM cannot use the Holden brand to sell cars from their global portfolio in Australia and New Zealand. Couldn’t they bring together the semblance of a coherent range to compete with other importers offerings?

      I had a look at what Holden’s range comprises and it really does look like a ‘scratch band’, with only one vehicle in any way tailored to Australian customers’ particular expectations.

      The parting roster – including state of origin – is:

      Acadia: Large 3-row SUV. Spring Hill, Tennesse, USA
      Astra Hatch: C Segment Hatchback. Gilwice, Poland
      Colorado: Mid-Size pick-up. Rayong, Thailand
      Commodore: D Segment Hatchback and wagon. Rüsselsheim, Germany
      Equinox: D Segment SUV. Ramos Arzipe, Mexico
      Trailblazer: Mid-Size pick-up base SUV. Rayong, Thailand
      Trax: B Segment SUV. Europe briefly got this as a Chevrolet. Bupyeong, South Korea

      The irony – Socratic? Cosmic? Morissette? – is that only the German Commodore was developed to meet Australian norms, with its big V6 petrol engine, and a footprint as large as its domestically produced predecessor, yet it is the car that’s seen as the harbinger of Holden’s final fall into automotive oblivion.

      Most of the valedictory line-up are not familiar to me, but there’s a gut feeling that not one of them is a segment leader, a ‘must-have’ in its class. Better cars, suvs, and trucks are available in Australia, and that’s what the buying public chose.

    2. “Most of the valedictory line-up are not familiar to me, but there’s a gut feeling that not one of them is a segment leader, a ‘must-have’ in its class. Better cars, suvs, and trucks are available in Australia, and that’s what the buying public chose.”

      I agree with this.

      “The irony – Socratic? Cosmic? Morissette? – is that only the German Commodore was developed to meet Australian norms, with its big V6 petrol engine, and a footprint as large as its domestically produced predecessor, yet it is the car that’s seen as the harbinger of Holden’s final fall into automotive oblivion.”

      I’m not too sure about this. An elemental part of Holden’s decline over two decades has been a failure, for whatever reason, to read market trends effectively – they got on to the boom in pickups late, got to SUVs firstly ineffectually and then too late – and then we get to the complete catastrophe that was their, ahem, ‘strategy’ in the C-segment. Since the mid-1990s when the Euro Astra was introduced, this has been Holden’s lineup in that market:

      1995-1998: Astra F
      1998-2004: Astra G
      2005-2009: Astra H

      This much, most people could follow. However, from 2005, Holden also rebadged the Daewoo Lacetti from as the Viva, which was replaced from 2009 by the Cruze (locally-built from 2011). This was supposed to replace both the Astra and Viva. However, for reasons that remain inexplicable to anyone outside it, GM allowed Opel to import Astra Js (and Corsas and Insignias) under its own brand from 2012. This went about as well, and lasted about as long, as one would expect. Having established that the Cruze had picked up a lemon reputation, Holden then cut its losses and imported the Astra J under its own name from 2012, again alongside the Cruze. Both of these models came to an end in 2016. They were replaced by the current Astra K. Only, we also got an ‘Astra’ sedan, otherwise known as the current-generation Cruze.

      By contrast, let’s revisit the strategy from the market leaders:

      Corolla: 1966-2020

      323: 1977-2004
      3: 2004-2020

    3. Ford has said it is committed to staying in the Australian market. However, with a 6% (60,000 vehicle) share in a remote, RHD market dominated by the Japanese and the South Koreans, you have to wonder, especially as Ford no longer manufactures there (nor does any other brand, for that matter). Ford’s UK market share is twice that in a market twice as big, just for comparison.

      I feel very sorry for Holden staff and, in particular, franchise holders and dealer staff. However, it just couldn’t go on – the statistics are staggering when you look at how much the cars were effectively being subsidized by the Australian taxpayer. Holden had the second largest dealer network after the market leader, Toyota, which outsold it by at least 3 to 1 – that’s unsustainable.

    4. The position of Ford in Australia is interesting. On the one hand they sell the second best selling vehicle in the country, the Ranger pickup. On the other hand the rest of their range doesn’t trouble the sales charts at all. They’ve become almost the Ranger Motor Company. How long this sustainable is questionable but I’d guess that the fact that the Ranger is made in RHD Thailand and sold in various RHD Asian countries as well could encourage Ford to persist in Australia. Time, as ever, will tell.

  3. Indeed Robertas, I would like to concur – a fine overview and an excellent introduction for discussion.

    In the days and weeks to come, no doubt People Of Import in Australia will feel duty bound to provide opinions on Holden and the car industry’s demise more generally that they never realised they had. But to be honest, the surprising element to me out of all this is not that the announcement came, nor even its timing, especially – the atrocious sales figures must have forced their hand (and if you thought the numbers were bad last month, etc…). As ever with such matters of consequence, by the time the final decision is made, there was hardly a decision to make. What I still don’t fully understand, although the evidence doesn’t lie, is quite why sales basically fell off a cliff as soon as local production ended and never even remotely looked like recovering. Moreover, it wasn’t just that the imported Insignia failed to meet targets – just about everything across the board collapsed in tandem as well. Those Hilux numbers versus Colorado really sum up the story. I don’t know anything about utes at all, but I really can’t imagine that the difference is solely accounted for by a dispassionate analysis of the two products.

    To me, this suggests a much more fundamental issue than the Insignia not being quite the right car, or even a backlash against the end of local manufacturing. Those two elements surely played their part to a greater or lesser degree, but I am cynical enough these days to believe that consumers have short memories and easily-satiated standards. Neither should have been an insurmountable problem, in other words. We’ll return to this point in due course.

    There is a fairly widespread tendency in the mother country to view Holden as “Australia’s Own”. Obviously, anyone who appreciates their history (or can read a shareholder’s notice) understands full well this is nonsensical on its face. Holden, for as long as anyone reading this has been alive, has been inseparably tied to The General, and the Lion has been its property to manage as it pleases and sees fit. But… located within the obvious absurdity there is simultaneously a kernel of truth, along with the tragic core. Holden was at one time the country’s biggest private employer. It is true that the Commodore wasn’t ‘just’ a sliced-and-diced Rekord/Senator/Omega – they were engineered for different use-cases from the models that spawned them, in the same way that earlier Holdens were similarly not merely Chevs adapted for local roads. (Although, consensus seems to be that hot Toranas handled about as well as you would imagine a Viva with a boat anchor chucked in an extended nose to handle, i.e., diabolically.) Regardless, the cars were generally ‘unique enough’ to really be considered ‘local’. However, therein lies the rub – notwithstanding any scraps of independence Holden was able to claw for itself within GM at various points, those could be taken away, and periodically were.

    I write this from the rather ironic position that, having spent nearly 30 years in Oz, it’s only since I moved away that I really took any serious interest in Holden from a global standpoint. When you’re there, it is (well, was) just part of the furniture, hardly warranting deep analysis of its position in the scheme of things, almost precisely because it was such a fixture. Commodores in particular and GM products in general are also not really my kind of car, presenting a neat resolution to a non-issue as far as I was concerned. So it is indeed rather difficult to articulate why it is latterly (in the last few years) that I have had an interest in Holden as an entity, its history, and its rather delicately-straddled remit within GM.

    As a matter of full disclosure for the benefit of the prosecution, I suppose I should note that my position is also informed by a long-standing antipathy to the North American arm of GM in particular which extends back decades. This is hardly unique in an Australian context, but perhaps unusual in that I have no emotional or other close personal connection to Holden whatsoever. This antipathy is something fostered not by ownership of any of its products, but by an overwhelming impression of a business that somehow manages to place a dead hand on virtually any project it gets involved with, inexplicably deriving sufficient profits from some to manage to sustain these tendencies for far longer than anyone could or should consider reasonable. So, all things told, I have a fair bit of sympathy for those at Holden charged with making things work as best they could within the boundaries laid down at the RenCen. I don’t want to sound like a Holden apologist here because these things are never quite that simple, but I tend to think there is a compelling case that, while Holden was finished as soon as GM took the decision to abandon right-hand drive, in reality it was staggeringly compromised long before by some key directives:

    * A decision to fill out the non-Commodore parts of the portfolio at the turn of the century with any old junk that could be procured from GM Korea, crushing the brand’s reputation in key market sectors as ‘rebadged Daewoos’ – the effects of this lingered for a LONG time and in fact are probably still consequential

    * Somewhat relatedly, at various (numerous) times, a general lack of class-competitive product that could be sourced from other divisions to fill out the lineup

    * On-off export plans that were victims of timing, circumstance, or politics within GM NA

    * A pervading impression that certain factions within GM NA would rather skin themselves with rusty blades than concede any important (read: agenda-setting) responsibilities to Holden

    Perhaps this is the way it was always destined to be. As per above, Holden was not always GM, but for our purposes it may as well be considered such. But as Robertas alludes to, there was perhaps an element of… if not exactly cultural cringe, a feeling in some circles that Holdens were perhaps a touch common, as Brits would understand the term. I wouldn’t put this down to the reduction of tariffs directly making imports more competitive as such (although that was true), but rather the fact that until around the mid-1990s, imported Euros were still, if not truly rare, then at least something of a novelty. VW, for instance, functionally withdrew from the market in the late 1980s, likewise the Italians; Renault was in and out like a yo-yo; PSA stayed the course but was niche at best. Volvo did its thing and obviously the prestige Germans were slowly growing, but the prices really were eye-watering. Nowadays? You can get, within reason, just about anything you want at globally-competitive prices, and like anywhere else, people fancy VWs, Audis, BMWs and Mercs, alongside the standard cavalcade of Japanese metal. Holden still has its supporters, but between the non-local product being underwhelming, a rather off-putting image for self-proclaimed sophisticates, and the widespread availability of ‘something different’ at competitive prices, I have to imagine that accounts for the majority of the sales collapse.

    1. Stradale – that is some meditation on the fall of Holden. Thought provoking too, although I can’t fall back on 30 years on Holden’s home patch.

      As far as I can determine, in the immediate post-WW2 era there was a high and honourable ambition among those “people of import” to turn Australia into a manufacturing powerhouse, by exploiting the continent’s vast natural resources in a way which added value, rather than selling them on in their raw form. And why not? The USA did it. Great Britain kicked off the Industrial Revolution with far harder-won raw materials, compensating with ingenuity, enterprise, and self-destructively hard work.

      Many of the people who had shaped modern Australia – James Alexander Holden included – grew up in Industrial Revolution Britain, in a period of extraordinary transformation.

      Trouble was in post-WW2 Australia, large-scale agriculture and extractive industries made easy money. Despite the majority of new immigrants in the ‘40s and ‘50s coming from industrially advanced nations: the UK, Italy, and Germany, Australia never developed a manufacturing ‘culture’.

      An interview with BLMC-A CEO Peter North in the Financial Times of June 26 1973 resonates strongly:

      “This change at the top in turn expressed itself with a direct contact at the grass roots level. The company objective of producing better cars is being achieved by a programme of consultation and co-operation with foremen and workers, with a two-way exchange of views rather than, say a zero defects system.

      At this level, however, there was also a determined drive to stop absenteeism. This in consultation with unions, meant some punitive action against some workers but the effects on morale were good. Still the problem of turnover of assembly workers— it is still over 100 per cent—has not been solved.

      This, however, is a problem that has its roots mostly in the fact that the car industry generally is a focal point for new arrivals in the country. Some stay, many just join for a quick job till they settle down. On the assembly lines, however, major changes have been made in order to relate one person’s job to the total concept, and in increased scrutiny of the quality of the product.”

      What I take from this is that factory work was seen as a low-status, dead-end occupation, alien to the Australian dream.

      By the early ‘90s, when I was living in a BHP company town 150km north of Sydney, realism had set in. Japan looked set to take over the world by economic imperialism, but China was starting to emerge as the workshop of the world, a Hong Kong multiplied two-hundredfold. In Australia, notions of adding value to extractive industries through manufacturing was abandoned – better to ship the raw material to Japan, Korea, and China as soon as it was out the ground and on the back of a truck.

      South-East Asia would always do the manufacturing better and cheaper, and there were other ways to extract value from manufactured goods – retail, finance, and aftersales.

      The “Lucky Country” had become a diverse economy. Although its wealth was still underpinned by agriculture and mining, the services sector – what we used to call “invisibles” – was the place to be, and Australia had become formidable in media, financial services, and construction management.

      I’ll contend that it was more “pork-barrel” politics than any coherent manufacturing policy which kept the Australian carmaking industry alive as long as it did. The question is not so much why it failed, but why it took so long.

    2. This story is complex to unravel and needs a historical look over decades to do it justice, but I think one of the most important elements was that federal politicians collectively decided that industry policy was not something that needed to be prioritised and taken seriously. This happened in a visible way sometime after the neoliberalism virus hit but it was enabled by the dramatic ramp-up of three extractive industries:

      1) Iron ore from the late 1960s
      2) Coal from the mid-1970s
      3) Natural gas from the late 1980s

      So, there is certainly some element of the resource curse at play, no doubt – and cheap goods from south-east Asia (Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, take your pick) certainly helped undermine the local-manufacturing case, as it did elsewhere. But until at least the 1970s, manufacturing accounted for a fairly-consistent 25% of employment (not just cars; consumer goods and other engineered goods played a not-insignificant role), and this had been a fairly stable proportion since the end of WWII, which is broadly comparable to a number of other similar Western-style economies:

      One thing to note is that neoliberalism in Australia happened in a distinctly different way than it did in the US or UK. While the Tories and Republicans took the lead in implementing the major policy changes during the 1980s in those cases, in Australia it was Labor that took the lead. Our Tories’ main ‘contribution’ during this period was to fervently back everything that was happening on the deregulation/privatisation front, except whinge that it wasn’t happening even more quickly.

      Button’s plan was obviously an important part of this. I don’t necessarily have a firm opinion on whether it was good or bad, necessary or not, but it was probably the last time that, as far as the car industry was concerned, there was a serious, good-faith effort for government to design relevant industry policy with a long-term goal rather than the short-term, piecemeal, tide-over efforts to strategically preserve employment it functionally became in due course. Bear in mind though that Toyota, at least, did not want to shut up shop – they were happy to continue making cars locally, but it became impossible once Ford and Holden went, because the supply chain would have been unviable with only one manufacturer. Perhaps that’s the underlying lesson here – when you as a small fish commit to an open(ish) economy in a globalised world that is economically defined by trade flows, you are – in the long-run – acquiescing to outsiders, be they other governments or international corporations, having the power to make decisions like the one this week.

      “What I take from this is that factory work was seen as a low-status, dead-end occupation, alien to the Australian dream.”

      Hmm. Insofar as the first part of the statement is true, surely it is functionally true of most factory jobs? There is a tendency to romanticise manufacturing jobs in places like car factories from the 1970s which, like the tendency to romanticise coal mines, should be fiercely resisted – these were filthy, hazardous jobs, actively harmful to the health and wellbeing of those who undertook them, which technology has substituted in whole or part, and that is a good thing. The whole ‘Australian dream’ thing (specifically, referencing ownership of a house on a quarter-acre block) was always an unsustainable notion in the long run (although ingrained mentalities around this have had toxic ramifications for sustainable long-term development, urban planning, and housing policy generally). Nonetheless, until housing prices started to really spiral upwards from the mid-1990s in Sydney and then Melbourne particularly, property was certainly attainable even to those on factory wages.

      “By the early ‘90s, when I was living in a BHP company town 150km north of Sydney, realism had set in. Japan looked set to take over the world by economic imperialism, but China was starting to emerge as the workshop of the world, a Hong Kong multiplied two-hundredfold. In Australia, notions of adding value to extractive industries through manufacturing was abandoned – better to ship the raw material to Japan, Korea, and China as soon as it was out the ground and on the back of a truck.”

      I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but to my mind that in many ways is a function of a failure of leadership. Naturally, Australia is hardly alone in this affliction over the last quarter-century, and in the end, the failures of the political class represent a failure of the people collectively to demand better. But it is a failure of the knowledge classes more generally, I think – by and large I get angry, rather than informed, because the quality of media reportage and commentary is by and large poor, superficial, and susceptible to groupthink. And I have no expectation that business leaders will act in socially responsible ways without, let us say, ‘encouragement’ from the political class, even the pretence of which seems to have been abandoned in recent times. Ugh. What a sorry tale all around.

    3. “I’ll contend that it was more “pork-barrel” politics than any coherent manufacturing policy which kept the Australian carmaking industry alive as long as it did. The question is not so much why it failed, but why it took so long.”

      I think it’s possible to overstate this. In reality there isn’t a country on the planet with a carmaking industry that doesn’t subsidise it, usually heavily – all of that overcapacity extracts its pound of flesh somewhere along the line. It’s a political choice. For Australia, by the mid-2010s, the writing probably was on the wall and the choice amounted to whether you throw a bit more and keep some jobs a bit longer, knowing all the while it is almost certainly just kicking the can down the road. Incidentally, for all the fuss that was made over subsidies, I just can’t get that agitated over it – if it wasn’t spent on this, the uselessness of the political class means it likely as not would have been wasted on something else, likely something I actively disagreed with, so my tiny contribution to the subsidy might as well maintain a bit of automotive diversity in the landscape and manufacturing jobs. But to reiterate – it’s a political choice, how seriously you decide to commit to industry policy, what role carmaking plays within that, and to what extent you are prepared to make decisions to prioritise those choices. The below showcases one approach:

  4. GM is not a company for dreamers, I write from Europe where GM does not sell anymore considering that it sold Opel to PSA. Suffice it to say that he has had brands like SAAB or LOTUS on his hands that could now be definitely something else.

  5. Superb comment by Stradale.

    Not only did GM find it exhaustingly beyond their current capability to design RHD vehicles for Australia/New Zealand, or so they say, they have also withdrawn from Thailand, another RHD country. And there they had a reasonably large factory, now apparently being sold to Chinese interests. So, GM now officially admits RHD countries don’t matter to them. Competing in the marketplace head to head with other manfacturers? They have other ideas.

    The brains trust at GM have embarked on a course where they offer vehicles only in markets where for some reason, people buy their vehicles in quantity, This apparently gives them the high operating margin they feel comfortable with.

    It is, of course, a self-defeating process if carried to a reductio ad absurdum conclusion. It is the old American way of looking at things in a sales organization – tally up the month’s sales, and fire the lowest performing salesman. To management with little imagination, the scheme was supposed to generate star salesmen all around. This kind of outlook was specifically derided by Deming in his various books on quality assurance and company organization. As he remarked, in any group of people, half will perform above average, and half will be below. It’s mathematics, nothing more. The star salesman of last month will be the dunce this coming or some future month and be allowed to pursue “further interests”. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves. And now customers in RHD countries are being treated this same way.

    From its lofty perch of intellectual fantasy, entire markets are now treated by GM to this method of winnowing out the “underperforming” ones no longer worthy of their exalted attention. They haughtily believe they make superior vehicles for the money (when the objective evidence indicates the exact opposite by way of falling market share) so people should buy them regardless, on sheer faith alone. If the flighty consumer is not capable of recognizing the privilege they enjoy of being able to buy GM, well, then that privilege will be withdrawn.

    Perhaps next, poor-selling individual states in the US or provinces in China, will be treated in like manner, and have superior GM vehicles withdrawn from sale. The management is not beyond such stupidity. One must protect one’s margins and only skim the cream off the top is their current mantra. Their closing order of factories in the US and Canada has followed similar nonsensical reasoning.

    One wonders if GM, its tail now firmly between its legs and on the run on the competitive front, while claiming it’s operating to please Wall Street and its stock price rather than its customers, is long for this world. From Number One to obscurity in many parts of the world, GM is no longer the hulking presence other manufacturers once feared. They have taken their ball and gone home, essentially claiming it’s all so unfair out there in some marketplaces they refuse to dignify them with their presence.

    1. It used to be claimed that what was good for General Motors was good for America. A cynic – which, obviously, I am not (may the Lord look sideways) – might be tempted to draw parallels between GM behaviour and the apparent direction of American global policies in recent times. Or am I straying into forbidden territory here? In which case I’ll get my coat . . .

  6. A few vulgar numbers:

    Estimated job losses in Australia and NZ as a result of Holden’s ‘retiral’: 600. Assuming 200 being retained for the rest of the decade to comply with statutory obligations.

    Holden has long since gone from being too big to fail, to being too small to matter.

    That 600 doesn’t include dealership staff and principals. Most outlets are multi-franchise already. They’ll find life far easier selling and fixing Mazdas and Kias. Perhaps even MGs and Great Walls.

    On which matter, GM’s very recent sale of one plant in India and two in Thailand to Great Wall is of far more significant than the Oceanic withdrawal:

    Talegoan, Maharashtra: Vehicle assembly and powertrain production. Annual production capacity 150,000, 4000 employees.

    Rayong, Thailand: Vehicle assembly and powertrain production. Annual production capacity 180,000, 1500 employees.

    How long before GM are looking down the barrel of the gun they once sold?

    1. If I fancied a punt, it wouldn’t be upon the General surviving the decade in their current form. A shotgun marriage with Henry in the national interest perhaps? It’s not as unthinkable as it might once have been.

  7. I am stealing this from another forum – I’m glad someone else did this analysis since it saves me the effort of doing it myself. It addresses some of the questions I referenced above about the sales collapse since the end of domestic production:

    I decided to play with some numbers to see how Holden’s 2019 numbers compared to others in various classes of vehicles. In particular, I wanted to see if there was a “Holden effect” where sales of certain cars seemed to be down just because they were Holdens (uncertainty over the brand, resentment of the plant closure, etc).

    I think there clearly was.

    In medium SUVs it seemed to be the most pronounced. I averaged the sales of the top six sellers, which came out at 20,064 units. Furthermore, four models are clustered at 15-20,000 sales which suggests that’s roughly the natural sales rate of a model in that class. (I chose top six not top five because of this clustering). Equinox sold a paltry 4562 by comparison. Given it was a relatively new and competitive (if somewhat ugly) model judging by reviews, it should have sold approximately 3-4 times what it did. Let’s say it should have sold another 12,000.

    In utes, the effect is less pronounced. Here I did top five, as sixth and seventh are a reasonable distance behind fifth. The average here is 29,780. Colorado was actually fourth with 17,472 and the average is dragged up by Hilux and Ranger being so far ahead of third placed Triton. However, consider this – Holden’s huge dealer network couldn’t sell even half as many utes as Ford, and sold only slightly more than much smaller Isuzu. I estimate Holden could have sold another 10,000 Colorados under “normal” circumstances.

    In large SUVs, the Holden Acadia was in the top five, and sold 3125 against the top five average of 6259. In this class there is Kluger, daylight, and then everything else. Let’s say under normal circumstances Holden could have sold twice as many Acadias as it did – again, it’s a new model and reviews were pretty positive.

    In small SUVs it’s a harder call as the Trax is ancient. I went top seven here again because of some clustering in 4th-7th place. The average was 13,112 with ASX way out in front and the cluster sitting at around 11,000. Trax sold 4808. Could it have sold more? The top selling ASX is actually even older than the Trax, so let’s say yes. I’m going to assume it could have sold twice as many.

    I didn’t do small cars because of Astra’s only one bodystyle making it hard to compare directly, and in medium/large cars Holden did remarkably well considering the category is largely dead.

    Adding up those four categories, there seem to be about 30,000 sales that went missing for no obvious reason other than they were Holdens. Holden sold 43,176 cars in 2019. If it had sold 73,176 it would have been fifth overall…

  8. GM kills another car company.

    At least Vauxhall/Opel has been given a fresh chance (although the GM legacy may be hard to shake off).

    Which one is next? It is possible to imagine Cadillac being sold while it still has some brand equity left… perhaps repurposed by investors who want a ready-made customer base for their new EV venture?

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