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The death of Holden

Written By: - Date published: 11:01 am, February 18th, 2020 - 43 comments
Categories: australian politics, Economy, tech industry, uncategorized, Unions, workers' rights - Tags:

Now, you may well think: why does this matter to me?

Thousands of households across New Zealand heard the announcement of the complete death of the Holden marque this week, as the death of one of the greatest binaries and one of the most closely teased and contested brands of all: Holden versus Ford.

If you go to any one of the dozens of speedways across New Zealand from Kaikohe to Waikaraka Park to Hamilton to New Plymouth and all the way to Invercargill, this is an issue over which drinks are bought and spilled, jeers over branded jackets and shirts, fist-fights break out, tens of thousands of dollars and man-hours are spent on parts and paint jobs and sponsors, girlfriends and boyfriends are evaluated, and plentiful technical arguments are pitched across verandas and garages. My wife is from a Ford family, my brother is Holden, and it is deeply multi-generation tribal.

The story of Holden began wayyy back as a South Australian saddlery maker, and evolved from car upholstery and tramcars to becoming merged as General Motors-Holden in 1931. But there’s a true step-change through World War 2. On November 28 1949 Prime Minister Chifley unveiled the first all-Australian motor car. 18,000 Australians signed up to buy one without even seeing it. It was a great patriotic moment.

The policy engine for all of this came from a New Zealand economist, Sir Douglas Berry Copland, who became the most influential Australian economic figure of his era. This is particularly apparent in the direction of the 1940s Acting Federal Treasurer Percy Spender, who was critical to organizing Australia’s private manufacturing capacity to the war effort putting all human and physical resources to work.

Essentially, Fordist heavy production lines met the necessity of the war effort, and the rise of the Holden-GM relationship to conquer Australia was borne.

By 1958, Holden totally dominated car purchases with 40% of all cars sold. There was the FJ, the FB, the HQ, and then in 1978 the mighty Commodore. Even against the mighty new Japanese car brands like Datsun and Honda and Toyota, Holden continued to dominate.

Ford started to cut in during the early 1980s, with challenges writ large in the great Bathurst and the regional touring car champs that focused the public mind on these two brands above all else.

Both the long-running Hawke (Labor) and Howard (Liberal National coalition) governments created a pool of public funds to assist the local automotive manufacturing industry. These included Ford Australia, GM Holden Australia, Mitsubishi Australia, and Toyota Australia.

Manufacturing and owning and driving Australian-built cars was a massive part of Being Australian. You can still see that preference on their roads today.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Toyota finally bested Holden for market share. But Holden still employed over 7,000 people in 2003.

By the 2010s, Holden was being propped up with state and federal subsidies twice the level of any other car manufacturer. Australia really wanted to keep Holden in heavy manufacturing.

They stopped making Holdens in Australia in 2017, and this week we hear of the news that all the dealerships and all the workers and all the design function will be gone.

What these closures have meant is that heavy industrialization is now well into the completion of deindustrialization, as noted here in the South Australian impact.

The old, clearly stratified layers of class and all the subcultures that surround it live on still but in far fainter forms. It is an old, proud, unionized history, fading far slower than it has in New Zealand. They had signaled in 2013 that they were winding manufacturing down.

New Zealand had similar arrangements between car manufacturers and the Todd family, who owned many dealerships and key manufacturing plants in the Hutt Valley. But they’ve been gone for many decades.

Back in the 1940s, the Australian economy was a much narrower economy. Similar to ours. It was as highly regulated and protected as ours. New cars were incredibly hard to obtain both there and here.

And now, there are still indirect ways for Federal and State governments to direct the kind of industry they want, but vehicles are no longer any part of that. Many have wistfully opined that there’s still a place for manufacturing, but it simply hasn’t changed government policy direction at all.

And so, the jackets will be patched up and won’t be renewed, Mt Panorama will roar to more diverse brands. Old union hands will recall the days they could drive off in the things they made.

The great patriotic union of class and state and nation is gone.

43 comments on “The death of Holden ”

  1. Ad 1

    I forgot my families'own metallic cobalt blue column shift Kingswood station wagon. This replaced the Morris Oxford, about 1973.

    • Phil 1.1

      My grandad had exactly the same cobalt blue Kingswood station wagon! I believe it was an HQ and they bought it new in the mid 70's. I distinctly remember it being kept in pristine condition right up until he and my grandmother finally traded it in for a Toyota hatchback in maybe '90/'91.

      On reflection, the sale of that car was in some ways a herald of his own aging and demise. The mighty Kingswood was my grandfather as a bold and powerful WWII veteran. The replacement vehicle was smaller, softer – the car that he would quietly drive into a resthome on the day of his arrival and then hand the keys over to my uncles.

      • Ad 1.1.1

        I'm reasonably confident we're not related, but still, great coincidence.

        I was terrible in column shifts.

        But it got us through a full childhood's worth of holidays up north.

        One of our neighbours had a spray-shop in his basement and remade our rear door with the wind-down window in solid fiberglass after the real one rusted through. Worked great. Back in the day ….

  2. Puckish Rogue 2

    M'eh, in watches and cars I'm Japanese through and through

    • woodart 2.1

      the japanese domination of car making is now giving way to korean and chinese .the only american car maker on the rise is tesla . in the u.s. ford only sells two car models , they make more money selling pick up trucks to yahoos. the rightup completely misses the fact that g.m. is getting out of making rhd anything. kia, a korean company, makes cars in slovenia ,and is one of the three big sellers in europe. huge changes in the auto industry. china is by far,the biggest market and they have over 100 brands that we have never seen. g.m. has sold its thailand plant to great wall, because it wasnt profitable(?)your next car may very well be an electric, made in bangladesh, by a chinese company??

      • Puckish Rogue 2.1.1

        Sounds about right

      • RedLogix 2.1.2

        Yup. The entire car industry is about to change totally; retiring the Holden brand is just a small opening move, and a smart one at that.

        But don't right off the Americans just yet; they are capable of radically reinventing themselves.

  3. Turns out the brand itself was barely holden together

  4. ianmac 4

    I had an FJHolden about 40 years ago. A grand old tank and you had to be careful when stepping out of it because it was a long way off the ground. A hardy reliable beast.

    • roblogic 4.1

      My Commodore is great to drive but damn it costs a lot to maintain it. Major fixes incl: chain drive, sway bars, driveshaft sleeve, alignment (after being rear-ended). Tyres are $500 each and its a thirsty beast

      Australians just stopped buying them

      • tc 4.1.1

        GM didn't help by producing too many models and not enough quality in the build.

        Rurally they're not well built enough and my mechanic has them ranked down past all the Jap brands and just above VW who lead the euros then come the Korean/Chinese.

        I drove a hire Cruze a few years back, it was an awful car for something brand new that the Ozzie taxpayers been subsidising !

  5. Sanctuary 5

    Presumably this settles once and for all the Holden vs Ford thing – Ford wins by a TKO.

  6. Jimmy 6

    I'm a Ford man, but am sad to see the Holden badge disappear (I have owned a Holden before) as it's always been an Aussie / NZ icon. And sad to hear that if GM are not going to make cars to be driven on the LHS of the road, then it wont morph in to Ford v GM like in USA.

  7. mauī 7

    The odious neoliberal holden took jobs from our men. Now they might learn a lesson that they should have been nationalised from the very start.

    • Gosman 7.1

      Why would nationalisation have helped? That would just have meant the Australian taxpayers wearing increasing losses over the years.

  8. Obtrectator 8

    Aw no! What'll the young men of Newcastle NSW use now fer cruisin' up and down Hunter Street?

  9. Gosman 9

    I am pleasantly surprised to see most people here taking this in their stride and not blaming the demise of Holden on the "evils" of capitalism.

    • woodart 9.1

      wrong site for that. go back to a site run by angry old white men, whale whatever or some stupid trumpfanboi site for handwringing about past glories.

  10. Tiger Mountain 10

    People of a certain age may give one about Holden disappearing into the global production mix, though it will likely mean little to many of todays generations who do not get a drivers license until their mid 20s if at all.

    Mainly owned Fords myself–still do–but Holdens were everywhere and recall a friends ’64 EH wagon with fibreglass replacement fenders and 2 speed auto that would not die, and two well off friends from Auck Eastern suburbs who let me drive their near new Monaros–’69 327ci silver with Saginaw, and HT 350 Green and gold stripes. What a blast for a teenager!

    Car industry has always been tough to work in, but some good union organisation in the glory days evened things up a bit with those “Detroit and Tokyo” bosses! Identifying Holden with Australian nationalism is a bit suspect as others have pointed out but that is the subjective feeling among some petrol heads.

  11. tc 11

    Reminded me of Game of Mates: How Favours Bleed the Nation by economists Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters……about how a small number of wealthy and highly-connected individuals, often operating within a cluster of powerful networks, rig rules, policy, laws and ideology for their personal and class benefit.

  12. David Mac 12

    Around the Fin Crisis the US big 3 had to go cap in hand to Uncle Sam and beg for bail-out $. Ford was in the best shape, that company is still standing on the fabulous foundation laid all those years ago by Henry's Model T.

    At the time GM, Ford and Chrysler were making things that sold poorly but the albatross about their necks was and is an aging workforce with a union that had negotiated superb retirement packages for folk that had been on the line and contributing to generous schemes for decades.

    The govt bail-out was a two stage way of doing superannuation like we do.

    I think Ford are coasting in the current market-place. Almost all of their R&D dollars have been directed towards what the future holds. Fortunes won't be made developing the ICE, doubling the range of a battery would create the next Bill Gates.

  13. David Mac 13

    Oh for that recipe, a regular lithium ion job, eleven secret herbs and spices and hey presto – Twice the distance.

  14. gsays 14

    A bumper sticker on a truck I saw recently: 20 metres to pass. If you are in a Holden it may seem longer.

  15. David Mac 15

    When commenting on the extraordinary success of his Model T Henry Ford said "If I gave the people what they wanted I would of given them a faster horse."

    Like so many ultra driven men, Ford was an arse with many aspects of being a decent bloke. On his subject, brilliant. Wasn't nominated for Dad of the Year.

    Before cracking out on their own the Dodge Brothers made Ford's engines, crated them up and shipped them across town to Ford's plant. Henry sent specs to the Dodge Bros for how he wanted the crates made that protected his engines during shipping, right down to where the nails went.

    The Dodge Brothers made free floorboards for the Model T, cut to length and the fastening holes, pre-drilled.

  16. David Mac 16

    Our love triangle began in a rambling old Queensland villa, the stumps were dodgy, a marble would roll the length of the hall all by itself. Jenny, Raylene and me. Jenny was going to be an actress and we were going to learn to fly. She took off to find her life, we took off to find ours.

    Jenny had an infectious demeanor and a fast broad smile. She attracted interesting people. She was mates with a Rooster that worked on a NSW power generation scheme. An engineer way from home with nothing to do in his Snowy Mountain downtime. He bought a tidy 1950 48-215 utility, the first year Holden made a ute. Over the course of his electro-generation contract he restored Raylene with a 60's milkbar flavour. He met Jenny, money changed hands and Raylene come to live with us. Our triangle lost a side.

    I rebuilt her in 99, retained the milkbar cowboy attitude. Shipped her to NZ, she is one of a few FX utes in NZ. They weren't sold here until the FJ model. We met an American airline pilot that had been living in NZ for 2 days. He had been posted to Auckland and was looking at a potential rental out at Piha Beach. Raylene and I met him on a blind corner. Captain Tim had forgotten we drive on the other side of the road in NZ.

    Looking at her, holding her, the fire had gone. A Westie called Rex fell in love with her. He hasn't been able to locate a 48-215 Cathedral grille so she is sporting FJ teeth these days. Carwise, Raylene has been the love of my life.

    (wish I knew how to post a pic here.)

  17. Muttonbird 17

    All the bogans are driving Ford Rangers now.

    The ultimate humiliation.

    • David Mac 17.1

      Ha yes, now that it's not cool to adopt an overt Alpha persona, we need to do it with accessories. Vehicles so high children can't enter them, now that's Power!

      "I bought a Ranger"

      "Hello clone."

      "It's a Wildtrak Model"

      "Hello clone burning extra money"

      The day I buy the most popular vehicle in the country please dress me in a Mao outfit and give me a heavy black bike.

      Ranger – Gas hogging penis extensions for people that think Matisse is a brand of toilet paper.

      • Muttonbird 17.1.1

        I forgot to add "Wild Track", which is the pinnacle of bogan virtue-signalling!

      • Ad 17.1.2

        If you want a proper penile implant, you can't go past the Dodge Ram.

        • David Mac

          Dodge Ram – The vehicle with a towing capacity so huge they'll be flying off the shelves the day it's legal to tootle down to the ramp with a 32 foot launch.

    • Ad 17.2

      Most every independent tradie you see now has a Ford Ranger, leastways in Auckland I'll be bound.

      Not so for the large firm fleets like Fulties, MacDow, Fletchers and Downer. Rangers are still a wee bit expensive as whole-fleet purchases when there are good old Toyotas still around.

      • Muttonbird 17.2.1

        Wrong login, Wayne.

        • Ad


          • Muttonbird

            Sorry, I read a lot of comments here and Wayne has more than once used the 'Tradies and their Ford Rangers' line when arguing against meaningful action against emissions.

            He likes to warn against challenging them and their vehicle of choice for fear of destroying the sector, or something.

            You just sounded a lot like him.

            • Ad

              Tradies are in for two further decades of massive demand for their services, such is the housing and infrastructure projects coming up.

              They are the very safest of sectors.

  18. David Mac 18

    Farmers’ Ford Rangers are cool. You can spot them easy. They have a variety of shades of dirt on them. The fakes have splashed down the 75 metres to the tarmac and are garnished with mono-tone dirt. A farmer’s ute will have roll-over protection that will save a life, tyres that roar like Freddie Mercury on tarseal and a packet of Zig-Zags on the dashboard.

  19. David Mac 19

    I'd feel complimented if I was mistaken for Dr Wayne Mapp. One of us has a dominant CV. I could live with failing like Wayne. I'd exploit the case of mistaken identity and create the 'New Wayne'. I'm satirising Wayne, thanks for taking the time to post here, I like reading what you have to say.

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