SYDNEY Dec 25 It's as much a part of Australia
as kangaroos, the Sydney Opera House or vegemite, and General
Motors Co's decision to stop manufacturing Holdens in the
country looks like the marketing equivalent of a car crash.
Australians have reacted with a mixture of anger, sadness
and resignation to GM's pre-Christmas announcement that it will
stop making cars in Australia by 2017 due to high costs and a
cripplingly strong currency.
But GM and independent brand experts are confident Holden
will not only survive the public relations nightmare, they
expect it to endure as one of the most valuable assets GM has
ever built down under.
"The fact that they're no longer made here will cause some
dissatisfaction and backlash but there'll still be a lot of
people who like them," said Danny Samson, professor of
management at Melbourne University. "It's a very well regarded
brand and there's no way you'd want to throw it away."
While a combination of a strong pipeline of new models,
effective retraining for affected staff and continued investment
in its distribution network would help Holden mitigate the
fallout, its biggest asset will be its long and much-loved
history in Australia.
As Australia rose to prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s,
feeding and clothing a Europe recovering from World War 2, the
vehicle it drove was the Holden ute.
The ute - short for utility vehicle - became ubiquitous in
both Australia's countryside - the bush - and the suburbs, its
pick-up style flat bed handy for transporting surfboards or
Holden's popularity continued to grow during the 1970s,
driven by the success of its HQ series and the celebrated in its
advertising campaign featuring the jingle "Football, Meat Pies,
Kangaroos and Holden Cars" - an Australian version of the North
American "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pies and Chevrolet" ad.
A fierce rivalry with Ford, most famously on
Bathurst's Mt Panorama racetrack, took the brand to passionate
One Holden model was even named a priceless national
treasure by the National Library of Australia and the death in a
2006 rally crash of Holden racing stalwart Peter Brock, the
undisputed "King of the Mountain", was a day of national
HERE TO STAY
GM is adamant the Holden brand with its "lion and stone
wheel" logo will remain in Australia after its two plants near
Adelaide and Melbourne are closed in 2017.
"Holden is here to stay," GM Holden Chief Executive Mike
Devereux said after announcing the planned production shutdown.
"The brand is going to be a part of the fabric of this country
for a very long time."
Even so, the costs of maintaining a separate brand in such a
small and fractured market have prompted speculation that GM
will eventually rebadge its imported Holdens as Chevrolets.
Holden is currently the second-best selling auto brand in
Australia, with its market share of around 11 percent trailing
Toyota Motor Corp's near-20 percent. But with more than
60 makers fighting for a market selling just over 1 million
vehicles a year, Australia represents a small pie being sliced
GM already imports the majority of the Holdens it sells in
Australia, mostly from South Korea and Thailand, and may ramp up
imports from such plants once Australian production halts.
Paul Nicolaides, a logistics manager at an industrial
company and life-long Holden fan, said that would weigh on
whether he continued to buy Holdens after 2017.
"I've been a Holden man all of my life and I've actually got
the latest model, Commodore," he said. "We would have a rethink
about what we would buy, (but) there's nothing else Australian
anymore, with Ford gone and now Holden, where would we go?"
That highlights a broader challenge to the "Australian Made"
campaign that promotes buying locally made goods but has already
seen the domestic auto industry gutted and a host of other
companies moving production offshore.
In October, Swedish appliance maker Electrolux AB
announced it would close a manufacturing plant in New South
Wales, while global food giant Heinz last year moved some
production from Australia to New Zealand, where costs are lower.
"What (Holden's departure) reflects first and foremost, is
that Australia has become a very high-cost country," said Ian
Harrison, the chief executive of Australian Made Campaign Ltd,
the not-for-profit organisation behind the certification and
marketing tool. "There is not one thing in this country that you
can't get more cheaply somewhere else."
Melbourne University's Samson questioned whether the "Made
in Australia" factor had ever been particularly powerful.
"Only if the Australian product is every bit as valuable do
they then say alright, I'll buy the Australian one, but in many
categories, it's not that big of a deal."
Indeed, government funding for Australian Made was turned
off in 1996 and the organisation is now solely reliant on
licence fees for its green and gold kangaroo triangle for its
A$2.5 million annual budget.
In the meantime, Holden fans will mourn.
"A bit sad, very sad actually, because I've been a follower
of Holden with my father," said Bruce Lethborg, president of
Holden Sporting Car Club of Victoria. "My father had Holdens, my
very first car was a 1966 HR Holden, it's just devastating