Holden is doing it tough in Australia. Local manufacturing is over and GM’s Australian brand is now struggling to stay in the top 10 best-selling car brands. Despite once having half the market, Holden’s market share is down to just over 4%. Last month, it posted its lowest monthly sales result since 1948.
As someone with a connection to the brand – I grew up in the back of a Holden and my first car was one – it’s been painful to watch. So, what’s gone so wrong and what can Holden do to fix it?
Just the other day, despite denials as recently as a week prior, Holden announced it was discontinuing the Astra and Commodore. Both were sourced from Opel, recently sold to Groupe PSA. This meant GM was buying them from another company, allowing little room for negotiation on price.
It wasn’t the only news from Holden. Its recently appointed managing director and a 30-year veteran of Toyota, Dave Buttner, announced he was stepping down. Though it was reportedly due to personal reasons – and apparently actual personal reasons, not the usual PR BS – it was inauspicious timing for Holden. The following week, the Astra and Commodore’s discontinuation was announced.
Though the Astra was once a hot-selling small car in Australia, the latest generation has proved to be a disappointing seller. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the car other than perhaps a drab interior, so it’s clearly suffering from strong competition and potentially the Holden name. Sales have also been affected by GM Korea ending production of the Chevrolet Cruze, which was rebadged as the Astra Sedan here. Holden no longer has a suitable small car it can put its name on unless it imports one from China, a PR firestorm waiting to happen.
Then there’s the Commodore. Holden had been accused in the past of being the Commodore Car Company, focussing on its locally-built model and its sprawling range of sedans, wagons, utes and mechanically-related models like the Monaro and Caprice. Therefore, it was always going to be hard to move on from the Aussie Commodore. Ford wisely avoided reusing the Falcon and Territory names on those cars’ imported successors. Holden, however, saw the remaining equity in the Commodore name and decided to continue it.
The ZB Commodore, however, has been a failure.
It’s not the car’s fault. The twin to the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia and Buick Regal is a perfectly competent car. It has features never seen before in a Commodore, like autonomous emergency braking and matrix LED headlights. Its base engine, a turbocharged 2.0 four, is far superior to the anemic 3.0 V6 in the base VF Commodore Evoke. It has versatile hatchback and wagon body styles, offers the first-ever turbo diesel in a Commodore, and still offers a punchy 3.6 V6 like the VF. Reviews have praised its dynamic chops, particularly the VXR with its Twinster all-wheel-drive system.
In some ways it’s superior to its predecessor, such as in feature content and fuel economy. In other ways it’s not, like its lack of a V8 and RWD, its narrower width (by 1.4 inches), and a drab if well-made interior that’s available only in black and with little contrasting trim to lighten things up.
Bizarrely, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries still categorizes the Commodore as a Large Car despite the hatchback measuring less than an inch longer and wider than a Toyota Camry, a Medium Car per VFACTS. That’s allowed the Commodore to remain a segment leader in sales despite the fact the Camry has outsold it year-to-date by around 3-to-1. The Commodore does, however, outsell the Kia Stinger 3-to-1 and puts everything else in the moribund Medium and Large segments to shame.
It’s not just the general decline of mid-size cars that’s to blame for the ZB Commodore’s sales, nor is it the loss of its predecessor’s rear-wheel-drive and optional V8. With local manufacturing over, fleets obviously no longer have “buy Australian” requirements. Holden was never as strong in the taxi market as Ford, and now Toyota’s got that market all sewn up. And as for the once loyal police departments of Australia, they’ve moved onto the Kia Stinger, Chrysler 300 SRT-8 and BMW 530d for their highway patrol cars.
Off the highways, you’ll see the Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata. It seems police departments have no problem with front-wheel-drive patrol cars – they’re just not buying the ones Holden are selling, at least not in anywhere near the numbers previous generation Commodores were bought in.
Holden scored a win in getting a 3.6 V6 under the hood of the Commodore (it’s doubtful Buick cared either way, considering the previous Regal GS was a turbo four). Releasing a Commodore solely with four-cylinder power would have been a disastrous mistake, particularly considering the last four-cylinder Commodore used the infamous Starfire mill. Though the turbo four is a punchy engine and in some ways superior to the 3.6 V6, the Commodore needed a six-cylinder to survive. Nevertheless, a V6 wasn’t enough. The most overtly sporty ZB is the VXR which uses the exact same 3.6 V6 as Commodores as much as AUD$15k cheaper. For buyers of the VF SS and SS-V with their 6.2 V8, the VXR was a non-starter, particularly considering its AUD$55,990 price tag, almost $10k more than a VF SS.
It seems Holden expected ZB sales to be much higher as the car has been offered with a dizzying range of variants. Three engines. Three body styles: the hatchback, Sportwagon, and raised Tourer. Trim levels comprising LT, RS, RS-V, VXR, Calais and Calais-V. There was talk recently of Holden thinning some of the less popular variants but instead, the whole range will be gone by the end of next year.
To illustrate how far the Commodore has fallen, in its best year – 1998 – Holden sold 94,642 of them. So far this year, it’s sold 5,417 units.
The axing of the Commodore and Astra hatch follows that of the Spark, Barina, Astra wagon and Astra sedan (a rebadged Chevrolet Cruze), all of which were terminated over the last 12 months. Holden will now sell only SUVs (what we call both crossovers and BOF SUVs) and utes (what we call pickups).
Focussing on SUVs and pickups is something we’ve seen before over in North America. Ford and Chevrolet recently revealed they were discontinuing all their cars bar their pony and sports car models. Buick just announced it was axing its last car, the Regal (an omen the Commodore’s death was nigh). In Australia, Nissan’s passenger car range has only consisted of sports cars and the Leaf for the past couple of years. Mitsubishi Australia is down to just one car, the Mirage.
Unfortunately for Holden, their SUVs aren’t selling as well as rivals. The Equinox in particular is a disappointment, with just 2.8% market share in a viciously competitive segment. Its lack of name recognition and arguably its lack of marketing has been to its detriment, though Holden was probably wise not to call it Captiva like its predecessor. That crossover was sold for 12 years, had more facelifts than Priscilla Presley, and is referred to by many as the “Craptiva”.
The Trax, like everything else in its segment, is trounced by the Mitsubishi ASX (Outlander Sport) which, despite its advanced age, enjoys unrivalled popularity. Worryingly, however, it’s also outsold by rivals from Mazda, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota and even Suzuki.
The seven-seat Captiva was replaced by the much larger and much more expensive Acadia, sourced from GMC. Like other imported models, the Acadia received some local suspension tuning and engineering input. We also received the nine-speed automatic transmission and 8.0-inch infotainment system ahead of the GMC. It’s yet another new name in a segment full of established rivals, however. Toyota dominates the large crossover segment here with Hyundai and Mazda taking the other spots on the podium. Holden isn’t completely in the weeds but it’ll take time for them to catch up. Fortunately, the Acadia has received critical praise for its spacious and versatile interior, balanced handling, and smooth powertrain. Of Holden’s SUV range, it’s regarded as the most impressive, with some critics even calling it the “real” successor to the Commodore.
Though the Acadia is off to a slow start, more worrying is how the Colorado and its Trailblazer sibling are performing, especially as the pickup segment is Australia’s biggest. Again, they’re being outsold by key rivals from Ford, Toyota and Mitsubishi, but they’re also being outsold by the very same vehicles wearing Isuzu badges. Even worse, last month, the two-model Isuzu range was just 508 sales from beating the entire Holden range.
GM and Isuzu developed the Colorado/D-Max trucks and Trailblazer/MU-X SUVs together. Originally, Isuzu supplied trucks and SUVs to Holden to sell but they decided to re-enter the pickup and SUV market here in 2008. With strong and sustained marketing, they’ve made a name for themselves here to the point that, even though the Holdens have been refreshed and have vastly superior interiors, the Isuzus are outselling them.
On one hand, Holden is lucky to be able to choose product from a number of GM brands (albeit fewer than before). On the other hand, Holden never seems to pick a car and stick with it. Since the 1980s, for example, Holden’s mid-size offering has gone from Camira to Apollo, Vectra, Epica, Malibu and then Insignia.
Lines are imported for a single generation and then disappear, never to be seen again – see Viva, Piazza, Calibra, Suburban, Tigra, Zafira, Cascada and Volt. This inconsistency even affects established lines. For example, the defunct Barina went from being a rebadged Suzuki to an Opel, then a Daewoo, then finally a GM Korea product. The Astra took a break and was replaced by the Korean and then Australian-built Cruze, before returning.
Holden has had loyal fans over the years. There’s an inherent tribalism to the Ford vs. Holden rivalry, fuelled as it is by the V8 Supercars race series. Even as many private buyers abandoned the Commodore and Falcon for SUVs, there were still dyed-in-the-wool fans of both. Older folk who’d only ever driven a big Aussie six or V8. Aussies in regional areas. Lovers of inexpensive performance. People who tow. V8 Supercar fans. Buyers who appreciated the fact they could break down in any town in Australia and there’d be no problem finding parts. As nice as the ZB Commodore is, it was never going to appeal to many of these buyers, while the rest of the market had moved onto SUVs.
Meanwhile, over at Ford, their passenger car sales have largely been disappointing. Local production of the Falcon and Territory ended in 2016 and since then, they’ve discontinued all Fiestas bar the ST and look set to wind down the Mondeo due to dismal sales. Even their SUV sales are nothing to write home about. However, Ford has an ace up each sleeve: the Ranger and the Mustang.
The Ranger is narrowly beaten by the Toyota Hilux in overall sales but outsells the Toyota in sales of the higher-spec, more profitable 4WD variants. Then there’s the Mustang. Ford Australia must be counting its lucky stars that its corporate parent decided to engineer the new Mustang for right-hand-drive. It’s allowed Ford to continue flying the performance flag and kept something with serious showroom appeal at Ford dealerships. Though sales have dipped slightly as coupe sales tend to do, the Mustang has been an enduring sales success that’s helped soften the blow of the Falcon’s demise.
You’ll see the Chevrolet Camaro SS and ZL1 in some Holden showrooms but they’re converted to right-hand-drive by HSV instead of coming that way from the factory. Consequently, the SS is priced around AUD$22k higher than the Ford. That’s why Mustangs run wild throughout Australia while Camaros are much, much rarer.
Though the Camaro has never been as much of a household name in Australia as the Mustang, a factory RHD model and subsequent lower price could have helped Holden. Dare I say it, slapping the Holden Monaro name on such a vehicle could have helped ease the pain of Holden fans and generated plenty of showroom traffic.
One car that will generate showroom traffic is the upcoming C8 Corvette. The first factory RHD Corvette, it’s coming to Australia and will be sold in select Holden showrooms. It won’t, however, wear Holden badges… or Chevrolet badges, for that matter. So while it’ll get gawkers, it’s not going to have a halo effect on the Holden brand.
Unfortunately for Holden, in its corporate parent’s pursuit of becoming a leaner and more profitable company, it’s been all too willing to exit markets where it’s underperformed. It sold Opel and Vauxhall, despite having reduced Chevrolet to a boutique operation in Europe just a few years prior. It withdrew from India in 2017, an emerging market it had re-entered in 1996. The same year, it also withdrew from South Africa. It’s pulling out of Indonesia next year. The situation in South Korea is looking shaky as well, with heavy losses, industrial action and a dwindling number of products being produced. If GM divests itself of its Korean operations, that will have a direct effect on Holden as it’ll spell the end of the Trax.
Then there’s the fact Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are GM’s only remaining right-hand-drive markets (it sells only LHD vehicles in Japan). How much longer is GM going to be willing to invest in engineering cars like the Equinox and Acadia for right-hand-drive?
GM hasn’t helped Holden’s reputation in Australia. Quality issues with GM Korea cars sabotaged the brand’s image here, and even those cars’ Opel-sourced predecessors acquired a reputation for flakiness.
Nothing in Holden’s current range is bad, though some of their products (e.g. the Trax) fail to rise much above average. What they need, however, is stability and some targeted, effective marketing. The brand’s image needs to be rehabilitated and matching Kia’s 7-year, unlimited kilometre warranty – and not just as a temporary sales promotion – is one tangible first step they could take. Kia’s soaring up the sales charts and it once had a reputation far worse than Holden’s.
Alas, Holden is at the mercy of its corporate parent. If sales don’t turn around, it’s not implausible that GM will shutter the Holden brand after more than 70 years.
What they’re doing right:
- Refocusing the brand on what sells
- Cherry-picking the most suitable GM products
What they’re doing wrong
- Showing no signs of stopping their frequent chopping and changing of model lines
- Struggling with slow sales of models in hot segments (e.g. Equinox)
- Not communicating to buyers clearly enough why they should consider Holden again
Read all our Holden articles at Curbside Classic Archive: Australian Brands
Annnnnd in related news, yesterday Australia experienced its hottest day ever; the national average(!) temperature reached 40.9°C (105.6°F). Even without that record being broken, Australia is a notoriously hot place; what nincompoop decided black interiors are such an exclusively good idea there?!
Amen, preach it brother Daniel! Here on the plains of south-western Victoria, we reached 43 yesterday. Friday will be hotter, they say, meaning high forties. And we’re not renowned as a hot place. Black interiors may be stylish if you’re a pen-pusher in an air-conditioned city office, but out here in the country they’re a curse.
If big, RWD, V8’s sell there, seems like the Tahoe/Suburban should be sent there. Or is gas too expensive? GM apparently builds them as diesels too, just not for USA retail sale (mine has a sticker under the hood referencing some data “if diesel equipped”).
Not sure if they build them as RHD. Wikipedia says they are sold in the United States (including the insular territories), Canada, Central America, Chile, Bolivia, Mexico, Myanmar, Laos, Angola, the Philippines, and the Middle East (except Israel), and they all roll out of Arlington, maybe one of these is a RHD market?
If big, RWD, V8’s sell there
They don’t, and haven’t in ages. The big myth is that the RWD cars from Holden and Ford were best sellers. If you factor out fleet sales, they haven’t been in a very long time. This is the fallacy of what Americans think about the Australian market. I wrote a post in this back in 2007 at the other site; nobody wanted to believe me that in the critical retail sales, Toyota and others were outselling the big Holdens and the Falcon for some years already, back then. And it was easy to predict the inevitable demise of these cars back then.
Ah, but locals did indeed buy the cars in big numbers privately, and the big RWD V8’s did indeed sell well, but there’s a catch.
A huge market factor was the requirement of govt departments and companies wanting govt work to buy local. Also, local companies bought local fleets to support local industry generally (and today, many of those industries have gone O/S as we “transition” to a post-industrial economy). This led to a rather incestuous circle that lasted for years. Big fleets bought the RWD Fords and Holdens with large discounts, used them for 2-3 years, and they were offloaded through the big dealers at (roughly) and sold for roughly the discounted price the big fleets had paid.
This meant private Oz buyers did buy the locals in big numbers – but at a 30% discount, secondhand.
The RWD V8’s were the strong sellers new to private buyers, but that was only ever perhaps 20% of the quite small market of RWD locals sold privately.
There were also tax/depreciation incentives for all this, so in many ways, the govt – a huge purchaser – was further subsidising the local industry. Once pre-tax leases for company cars became a thing, then the dominant thing, and restrictions on buying local lifted (user-chooser), the industry could not hope to survive. An indifferently-finished, too-large (for many), thinly-equipped V6 Commodore, or a beautifully built, ultra-equipped top-line Mazda 3 as your company car? For many people, a no-brainer.
The demise wasn’t inevitable until those major changes occurred. But in a modern, connected world, perhaps those changes to the rules of a rather rigged game were.
THinly equipped yes its kinda ironic Holdens are better equipped in NZ than in OZ AC power lift glass was standard in NZ but optional in OZ but was always the case right back into the 60s
Paul, I know my reply is late, but let me tell you what I, as an Aussie and Holden fan, see happening.
It started with the Toyota Rav4. This wildly popular crossover started a trend thant Ford and Holden totally ignored, in favor of sedans, wagons and utes.
Both companies had their chance to plan ahead for changes in buyer tastes.
Only Ford responded, and then rather late, with the Territory SUV based on the Falcon platform. It was an excellent SUV and could have kept selling well enough to keep Ford Australia alive.
But it was obvious that the typical GM hubris and arrogance prevented Holden from tuning in to their market and making major adjustments.
I, and the vast majority of Australians, feel no sympathy for Holden whatsoever. Classic cars aside, they are a worthless brand now.
Gas is regularly around AUD$1.60 per litre, so expensive but not as much as in Europe. Commodore and Falcon sales have been declining for a decade or more. Hardly anyone bought the V8s, they were more of an image thing. So the writing on the wall was clear. On paper the Opel Insignia seemed the right product, being the right size for where the sedan market was, but calling it a Commodore was a big mistake. I could count on one hand the number of them I’ve seen. Factor in the dreadful service reputation of the Daewoo/GMKorea cars, and it’s no wonder people aren’t willing to take a chance on any new product from Holden.
The reverberations of killing the B-Body without proper replacement in 1996.
Australia’s Domestic Market got creative and built their own chassis. Without the advent of the internet (thanks Al Gore) and Bob Lutz stumbling across the Holden Monaro when he needed a quick fix for Pontiac, Holden probably would still be churning out RWD V8 monsters. All Holden was to GM for about forty years was a line-item on a spreadsheet in an accounting hard drive. Around this same time, Motor Trend started getting bored with domestic offerings and started travelling to Australia regularly to tease their readers and by proxy embarrass GM and Ford mangers when they were peddling Panthers and Cateras as their only RWD sedan offerings.
Alas, the powers that be in Detroit “discovered” Holden and started to “manage the brand” as they have done with Chevy, Buick, Olds, Pontiac, Cadillac, and Saturn over the last forty years Holden’s outcome was predictable for anyone paying attention to GM’s USDM slide in that time.
What happens when Asia finally figures out full size trucks and SUV’s?
I like how all the comments end in questions for GM so far. I did not plan my reply to coincide that way. It’s like some kind of psychic twisted Jeopardy! game where the intended viewers are GM management and rational decision making is in abundance from its customers.
What, a great concept?
Read my comment above. The RWD cars from Holden and Ford were moribund along time ago. They were running on myth, not actual retail sales, where they had been beaten by the Camry and such some 15 years ago already, if not more.
Holden has been dead man walking for a mighty long time…but probably not much longer. Mary Barra is very intolerant of divisions that don’t deliver healthy profits. As in Opel/Vauxhall.
GM is a dead brand walking. I seem to have been the only person on earth who was NOT astonished when they went bankrupt the first time, and they are so obviously circling the drain toward their second that it’d make a good over/under betting line. The only question is “how long until the entire company is swallowed whole by a Chinese holding company”?
The myth propped up the brand, the (old)Commodore was the gusset for the unstable tunnel that was Holden, and it predictably collapsed when it was replaced with a twig.
Where I’m quite critical, even putting my RWD V8 preferences aside, the old Commodore was the best quality and best engineered product GM had between the 1980s and the 2010s. The 04 GTO may have been unfavorably compared to a 90s Cavalier in its styling in the US but its sophisticated chassis, interior design, fit and finish and materials were vastly superior than anything the mothership was putting into domestic Pontiacs with their knobby fisher price plastics. I’d say the same thing about the G8 and to lesser extent the SS(which was fairly dated)
Mary Barra may be intolerant of brands that don’t deliver healthy profits but profitable brands aren’t going to be anything special as far as product is concerned. Dumping Holden is one thing, very few Americans knew it existed in the first place and very few found the three cars that made it here compelling enough to buy, or simply know that they existed, but dumping Opel/Vauxhall is curious considering a not insignificant portion of their models and platforms since their reorganization have been derived off of them, and I attribute any regenerated good will towards GM perceptions to the superior engineering and quality they inherited.
I wouldn’t say astonishment regarding bankruptcy but more like “I can’t believe this happened in my lifetime.” Sort of feeling.
Mike Tyson had a documentary on Netflix that I saw once and it parallels GM almost to a tee.
Basically, from GM’s founding through 1979 GM was pretty much the unstoppable juggernaut, in the same way Mike Tyson was early in his career. But then just as most mortal men, you begin to fall victim to temptation and your own hype. For GM, this post-1980 period was well documented in Paul’s “Deadly Sin” Series.
In Tyson’s case, he admitted he was partying too much and not training correctly after his trainer Cus D’Amato died and Don King became Tyson’s de-facto father-figure. Sort of like Bill Mitchell retiring and Irv Rybicki taking over GM Design.
Bill Mitchell would have resigned before he let the Cimarron see the light of day and his entire team probably would have walked out with him. Irv was GM Management’s lap-dog and would have put the wreath and crest on a John Deere painted black with an Iron Duke swap.
GM’s “partying” phase occurred during the engineering and design of the W-Body.
“The platform cost $7 billion to develop and was to replace all midsize cars produced by Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick on the G and A platforms.” 7 billion in 1985 is equal to 16.7 Billion dollars today.
Basically, For GM, its bankruptcy was the equivalent of Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson (ironically happened in Japan of all places). Anyone involved in the industry knew it was going to happen eventually but it still was an “Oh My God” moment when it happened.
GM today is just the husk of a former fighter trying to bite everybody’s ear off because it can’t win a fair fight.
If your a fight fan, Tyson blamed it on Holyfield head-butting him intentionally over and over in both fights and the referees both times never reprimanded Holyfield. The documentary does a good job of going through the fights in slow motion with Tyson’s own commentary in the background.
’80s GM was willing to spend so lavishly on systems, processes and infrastructure – anything they thought would scale. What they flat refused to do was put in any more than the minimum cost-per-unit. It was the opposite of putting the money where the customer could see it, and the first-gen GM10s were the poster child for that. 7 Billion to develop a good used car. Still blows my mind.
Agreed. The phrase “Stupid, on fire” seems to apply to GM management. The latest “Cadillac exiting the Internal Combustion market” news, along with the entire autonomous-vehicle bullshit points to a company deeply under the influence of illegal drugs.
I specifically note that if the USA had proper and appropriate import taxes, and an EPA and NHTSA that are also “stupid, on fire”, things *could* be different. That is, GM might survive incompetent management, or incompetent Government, but no way can they survive both.
I’m close to retirement, so my current SS is the last company car I’ll ever have. I really liked it. I’ll remember it as the best of a line of fleet cars stretching back 30 years.
I do believe Australia made the penultimate American-style RWD V8. Like turntables, steam engines and CB radios, things seem to get perfected just before they die.
So I guess local production of big V8 “dinosaurs” wasn’t the singular source of Holden’s woes afterall? Oops… Welcome to the GM the US has known for the last 40 years, Australia.
It’s always bittersweet when brand identity is proven to be a valid selling point, the revelation always comes after it’s all been swept away by corporate incompetence and shareholder greed.
Yup. Holden has been a dead man walking for a long time. I said that back in a post in 2007, at the other site, and folks did’t want to believe it. Not much longer, is my guess. Mary Barra has a very short fuse for underperforming divisions.
I remember that and having then recently returned from a week in OZ driving a new Commodore I didnt believe you either ok the car really wasnt much good with the weak chested 3.6 engine but there were plenty of them around both in OZ and NZ they seemed to be selling ok.
You raise a good point about GM only selling LHD models in Japan, and wondering if they are going to abandon all LHD markets totally, as they are not competitive in any. It would make financial sense to not spend money to engineer a LHD version when the payback is not likely.
That also makes me wonder…with fewer countries driving right, at what point does it make sense for those countries to switch? 65% drive left, 35% drive right. Yes, Samoa changed recently, but that was due to the availability of cheaper imports from the Australia/New Zealand/Japan market. At what point does standardization override precedence? Certainly OEMs would prefer to build to one or the other instead of both.
Approximately 20 million cars made last year in RHD, or more than the entire US market. With todays design tech, I don’t think RHD costs much more in planning, and just a bit extra in production.
As an aside of interest, the excellent Ford Territory (and Falcon) was not allowed to be designed for LHD by order from Dearborn. In all but finish, this midsize SUV from 2004 was equal to the BMW X5, and vastly ahead of what Ford US was making for years after.
The Territory good as it is has problems with an underbaked front suspension its not quite strong enough for the extra weight, Falcons stopped selling in any numbers in NZ a long time ago buyers went for the Mondeo or the Ranger
Quoting, “The Territory good as it is has problems with an underbaked front suspension its not quite strong enough for the extra weight, Falcons stopped selling in any numbers in NZ a long time ago buyers went for the Mondeo or the Ranger.”
The base Mondeo was shockingly underpowered. Not a good car. Base model Falcon was far superior, unfortunately it turned out to be more expensive. Oh well. One gets what one pays for.
BTW the Walkinshaw Commodore with its wonderful V-8 is now selling at several hundreds of thousand dollars……….. second hand! Wish I’d have been aware enough to have realised that was about to happen.
GM management can’t really be that bad, but this Australian story sounds like GM everywhere for the last 10-15 years: constantly changing product lines, product branding/naming, sourcing, etc. Fundamentally, one needs a good product and good sales/service channels, but it sure doesn’t help to confuse loyal customers. This is certainly one thing that Toyota (50+ years of Corollas) and Honda (40+ years of Accords) know how to do. Sure a modern Civic is much bigger than an Accord from just a few years ago, and sure they’re not really Made in Japan anymore for most markets, but both cars have now been sold to multiple generations of customers with only incremental changes.
Never underestimate the capacity of GM management to shoot themselves in the foot. Repeatedly.
An excellent article, William. I think you’ve nailed everything. They’ve debased the brand with poor product for short-term shareholder gain, and it’s come back to bite them. Who would be willing to take a gamble on a new product from them nowadays? The sales figures show the answer.
Wasn’t local auto manufacturing in Australia doomed when government removed protection/subsidies? The population/market size of Australia is far too small to sustain an independent local auto operation.
The death spiral began when Datsun and Toyota began importing cars. They were wildly popular during the oil embargo. Local car makers didn’t bother making competitive cars.
If anything the death has been amazingly slow. Compare a 1973 Torana 1600 to a Mazda 1600 Capella. You will see what went wrong.
Spot-on analysis, William.
Though I have a typical Aussie nostalgia for the brand in history (including mine), the harsh reality is that the brand will ultimately fail. And it will be a deserved fate.
The existence of the local industry was dependent on government protection and then policy, though the consistent PR would have you believe the local makes were winning on their own terms. The last models from Holden (and Ford) were finally truly excellent ones, but far too little and late. For decades, a plump and arrogant Holden sold cars that were sub-standard in finish, and in reliability. The South Korean stuff was literally from the oldest, lowest-quality Daewoo plant in Asia, and everything that came out of there as Holdens have dreadful names – and as you point out, many, many names too! They were not kind to customers.
And as pointed out above, when buyers were finally freed to buy from elsewhere (or for many years, whenever they bought privately), they chose cars free of these problems.
Once the only incentive to buy the brand was gone, local production, why would anyone seriously consider a brand with a name for poor-quality cars and poor service? The answer, ofcourse, is they just haven’t. It is effectively now a non-brand.
Now? The Trailblazer is a crude diesel ute conversion of little merit, the Trax is a comically over-priced nothing-burger, the Commodore a decent but huge FWD barge irrelevant to most buyers, and the nice-looking Arcadia comes only with a petrol V6 with peak power at 6,600 revs – in a diesel-dominated large SUV segment in a country where fuel is $6.50 a gallon. All with a second-class warranty.
The company was arrogant, complacent, and when it closed up here in 2017, repatriated literally many tens of millions in Oz taxpayer money to Detroit. And they’re still arrogant, saying a week before this Commodore was axed that it would be staying.
Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, they can get stuffed.
I remember Holden’s last false dawn, when the US discovered how quickly we could develop a new (and more-than-competent) model resulting in our providing them with the rear-drive V8 platform that underpinned the Camaro.
But globalisation is what it is. I still double-take when I see the BMW 5-series used by our local police station.
Great writeup William.
Barring a miracle, Holden will be dead within 10 years. The fans of the locally made Commodore will never forgive them for putting the name on what was perceived as fragile plastic European junk, and for everybody else the brand is synonymous with poor reliability after decades of fragile European and Korean rubbish (off the top of my head the Vectra is the perfect example).
What a fascinating and extraordinarily well-written article William! (And just after your birthday too I believe!). Following the announcement of the Commodore’s imminent demise, I read a large variety of articles both online and in newspapers, trying to get a feel for what had happened and why. Your take on it is easily the clearest, best-written and most thought-provoking, thank you.
One of the local New Zealand articles I read noted that Holden is doing much better here than in Australia, albeit probably helped by them having the exclusive national contract for police vehicles, which brings in a fair swag of sales annually. The local police weren’t keen on the ZB Commodore sedan, citing poor rear headroom, so now they take wagons instead of sedans. But recently the police seem to be buying more and more Equinox and Acadia (what is the plural of those?!).
Probably the biggest thing for me re the ZB Commodore, is that it just doesn’t really suit dressing up with dealer accessories. It seems like 90% of VF and earlier Commodores came with tints, big wheels and spoilers, and even though 90% of those were probably base model V6s, the tarting up meant they had bucket-loads of presence about them. The ZB is quite innocuous by comparison. Not bad at all, just not…visible. The only vehicle in Holden’s current range with any sort of presence is the Acadia. On the Ford-Holden competition I lean more towards the Ford side, but if I wanted a large SUV I’d chose an Acadia any day. I suspect it fills the void left by the late lamented Ford Territory better than whatever that thing is Ford is selling instead.
Will Holden die? I think so. With GM now out of the main RHD markets, what incentive do they have to continue here, Australia and Thailand? Very little I think. It’s funny, when I was growing up in the 1980s, I collected and read Wheels magazines. I remember the issues from the late 60s when British Leyland (or whatever it was called then) sales were doing so extraordinarily well in Australia. I wondered then how it was possible for a household name to so quickly debase itself and leave the market. Now, nearly 50 years later, I watch Holden’s ever-increasing decline and I understand. History can repeat after all. For GM to have left some RHD markets is sad; if they leave them all it’ll be a tragedy – and they’ll no longer be a proud global American brand, but another has-been, lacking in the insight of what it means to be global.
Just my 5c worth. Thanks again William, loved the read.
Yep if you see a ZB Commodore in NZ its likely a police car whether its dressed in dayglo or not, the ‘God squad’ CVST seems to like the Holden utes and SUVs for all the crap they have to carry policing the nations heavy vehicle fleet, but private buyers steer clear of Holden badged products, theres still plenty of the old RWD models on the road even the ancient Buick V6 powered ones, dead brand rolling it will be missed I guess but like a lot of other brands that have disappeared there will be survivors left in use for a while yet.
When I used to work on C1UH ( Holden Acadia ) it was utterly cheaply put together. It wasn’t expensive to begin with, but it was kind of too cheap.
I frankly don’t know what GM management is made of.
Leftovers, served cold.