We Love Football, Meat Pies, Kangaroos & Holden Cars… But Not Any More

By - CTL
March 1, 2020
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Holden Axed By General Motors

By Marcus Honesta

This is the way it was.

Australia what’s your favourite sport? (Football)…Snack? (Pies!) …Animal? (Kangaroo!) And what’s your favourite car Australia? Holden! Let me see that’s football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars huh? ” Well you sure sound like Australia to me! We are!

But tragically not anymore.

It is always sad to see when an icon brand loses its way and finally dumped.

The quintessential Australian brand Holden has been axed by General Motors as the American car giant moves to address falling demand for its cars.

The dealers were told dealers today that GM decided to pull out of the Australian market General Motors said that one of the reasons the brand will be scrapped was the “highly fragmented right-hand-drive markets and the cost of “growing” the brand to deliver an return on investment.

“After comprehensive assessment, we regret that we could not prioritise the investment required for Holden to be successful for the long term in Australia and New Zealand, over all other considerations we have globally,” Mr Blissett GM International Operations senior vice-president said.

This follows Holden axing the Commodore and Astra in December due to slow sales, saying at the time it was concentrating on more profitable, higher volume SUVs.

While Karl Benz was tinkering with his first vehicle in Germany during 1886, James Alexander Holden’s saddlery business had been producing leather goods in Adelaide, South Australia, for three decades.

When its founder’s grandson, Edward Holden, joined Holden in 1905, the company began to shift focus towards the ‘horseless’ carriages that had just begun rolling around the streets of Adelaide.

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This motoring venture started with building motorcycle sidecars and then moved to car bodies in 1917 when import restrictions during World War I prompted a lack of fully built vehicles.

At this time, Holden’s Motor Body Builders was found in the heart of Adelaide, King William Street. Importing rolling chassis from carmakers like Dodge and Chevrolet, Holden placed locally built bodies on top and sent them out for sale around Australia.

Soon outgrowing its Adelaide workshop, Holden moved operations to Woodville, which was on the South Australian capital’s outskirts at the time. Production increased so quickly that General Motors (GM) could no longer neglect the trade Down Under, leading to Holden becoming its exclusive body builder for Australia.

During the Great Depression in the early 1930s, orders for Holden vehicles took a dive, so GM moved to buy the company, creating General Motors-Holden’s Limited in 1931.

The outlook improved as the 1930s drew to a close, despite the threat of the next war looming large, with Holden managing director Laurence Hartnett and company executives looking towards the future, fostering plans for “Australia’s own car”.

However, history took a turn for the worse when war was declared on Germany in 1939, meaning the first Aussie family car was put on the back burner in favour of the need to manufacture armaments.

After being dormant for several years, engineering and design work on Holden’s first car went into full-swing, which – despite its “Australia’s Own Car” tagline – was based on a Chevrolet design completed in Detroit.

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As such, the classic 48-215 was born in 1948, with the Port Melbourne factory responsible for producing the first example. Famously, Australian prime minister Ben Chifley was present, saying: “She’s a beauty.”

This thought clearly resonated with Australian customers, who paid deposits for 18,000 units despite not seeing the 48-215 yet.

Light, strong and efficient (in its time), the six-cylinder model was priced at $733, which was the equivalent of around two years’ wage for the average Aussie worker during that period.

Holden became Australia’s number-one carmaker in the 1950s, with this title strengthened by the debut of the iconic FJ. Affectionately dubbed ‘Humpy’, the FJ was a facelift of the original car, which was later named the FX.

In later years the Commodore was the country’s best-selling car for 15 years, reaching a peak of 94,642 sales in 1998.

A senior multi-franchise Holden dealer, who declined to be named, said the move was “not a huge surprise”.

“Customer inquiries have dried up and the franchise is simply not what it used to be,” he said.

Holden ceased making the Commodore in Australia in 2017 and sales spiralled down from that point on.

This year it has sold just 43,176 cars, a far cry from the 106,092 it sold just five years ago.

Sadly, another one bites the dust.

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