The culling of cars from GM’s lineup has reached its antipodean outpost. One of Holden’s longest-running nameplates, the Barina, has been quietly discontinued after 33 years, leaving Holden without a product in a segment historically popular with young car buyers.
While Holden hasn’t been immune to GM’s habit of burning through names, Barina has consistently been applied to their B-segment offering since 1985. Contrast this with Chevrolet who, in the same time, went from Chevrolet Sprint to Geo Metro, Chevrolet Metro, Chevrolet Aveo and Chevrolet Sonic. Though the Barina name has endured, however, it’s been applied to a multitude of different products from different parts of the GM Empire.
The inaugural Barina – Holden’s first B-segment model and part of the brand’s 1980s expansion into new segments – was a rebadged Suzuki Swift. The following generation, too, was a Swift with detail changes. Advertising for both generations often used the phrase “beep-beep Barina”, a term that entered the Australian lexicon. Holden then switched to the pert and perky Opel Corsa for the third-generation model, Aussie-market models sourced from Opel’s Spanish factory. The critically-acclaimed fourth-generation Barina was also based on the corresponding Opel Corsa.
Holden chose to tap their fledgling Korean operations (formerly known as Daewoo) for a raft of new products in the mid-2000s. This meant the Barina, by now a well-established and respected nameplate in Australia, was applied to the Chevrolet Aveo (née Daewoo Kalos). That allowed Holden to slash prices; the European-sourced Barina, though well-priced, had little room to move down due to the exchange rate.
Unfortunately for Holden, the Korean-sourced Holdens were criticized by the motoring press. Though the Opel-sourced models had some reliability and build quality issues of their own, they felt more premium than these former Daewoos. The new Barina’s lousy two-star ANCAP safety rating also didn’t endear it to critics. Despite this publicity and slow initial sales, the Barina eventually soared. In 2006, for example, it sold just over 13,000 units, more than double what the superior Opel-based one had been achieving at the end and the Barina’s best numbers in over a decade. That put it just behind the Toyota Yaris but right in the thick of the competition.
The sixth-generation Barina was a huge improvement over its predecessor, much as all the second generation of GM Korea products had advanced. The only engine at first was a 1.6 four-cylinder from GM’s Ecotec family, producing 114 hp and 114 ft-lbs and mated to either a five-speed manual or a six-speed auto. In 2014, a “warm hatch” RS model arrived with a turbocharged 1.4 producing 138 hp and 148 ft-lbs, though it lasted only a couple of years.
By this point, the Barina’s sales were off. In 2016, for example, Holden sold fewer than 5,000 Barinas as the segment had come to be dominated by cars like the Hyundai Accent and dated Toyota Yaris. In recent years, the Barina was also outsold by the more expensive Trax and Astra. The sixth-generation model may have been a huge improvement over its predecessor but GM left it to fend for itself in a cutthroat segment, the Barina afforded only a minor facelift in 2016. In 2018, Holden quietly dropped it from the price lists.
It’s natural to assume that, given the rise of crossovers, buyers might just gravitate to Holden’s smallest crossover, the Trax (the A-segment Spark was also axed in 2018 though it remains a hot seller in New Zealand). There’s a hefty hike to the Trax in price, however – the cheapest Barina cost $AUD14,990 while the cheapest Trax is $9k more. The Opel-sourced Astra sits between in price but, given Opel’s sale to PSA, its fate (like that of the Commodore) is up in the air. The GM Korea-sourced Astra Sedan is already gone so it’s possible Holden will become an SUV/pickup-only brand like Nissan has in Australia or like Ford soon will be in the US.
The future of entry-level motoring?
Holden’s not alone in leaving the B-segment. Ford will no longer import the Fiesta here, forcing buyers to spend more on the uninspiring EcoSport or the all-new Focus, itself pushed upmarket. Hyundai’s new Accent won’t reach Australian shores, a new sub-Kona crossover called the Venue arriving next year. Hyundai has said they’ll keep the Venue under the psychological $20k barrier – we’ve grown accustomed to small cars advertised at “$19,990 driveaway, no more to pay” – but that’s still around $5k more than the base Accent.
Chinese and Latin American small Chevys.
Clockwise from top left: Cobalt, Beat, Cavalier, Sail, Prisma, Aveo, Onix, Monza
Meanwhile, in markets such as China and Latin America, there’s a multitude of small non-crossover vehicles offered by GM. Evidently, there’s still a market for them there. But while even the best-selling B-segment models are down from ten years ago in Australia, the Barina seems to have experienced an especially precipitous decline. Was it buyers’ bad memories of inferior Korean Barinas of old? Was it the lack of updates? Or did Holden’s image problems of late taint the little hatch? Considering the near-identical Chevrolet Sonic has seen a similar decline in the US and Canadian markets, the lack of updates may be the key culprit.
While it may seem shrewd for automakers to forego B-segment offerings and chase more lucrative crossover sales, it does close the door on a group of more price-conscious and often first-time car buyers who may eventually graduate to a more expensive replacement car. Brand loyalty often starts on the ground floor. And though Holden’s B-segment model was varyingly a Suzuki, an Opel, a Daewoo and a Chevrolet, the Barina name is one familiar to Australians and many of its buyers may have been repeat customers. Now it’s gone. Bye-bye, beep-beep Barina.