What does Cinderella have in common with Holden? At the stroke of midnight her horse-drawn carriage unceremoniously turns into a pumpkin while the horses relinquish their regality into impoverished mice, signalling the end of one hell of an unforgettable party.

Pretty familiar prophecy for Holden the car maker, whose ‘stroke of midnight’ has been earmarked for 2017. Its engineering centre and Adelaide factory will shut at the end of 2017 but not before the final Aussie-made Holdens have their last hurrah on the production lines. The mice? Some poor thousands of faithful workers who’ll lose their once dependable jobs and mission. The carriage? Unbelievable that Holden went from producing horse-drawn carriages to manufacturing its very first custom-made car shell only in 1914.

Its colourful history dates back to 1856 when JA Holden first founded a leather and saddlery business in Adelaide, South Australia. From 1885, the Holden & Frost company went from manufacturing horse-drawn carriages to rolling out its first-ever car body in 1914. By 1924 it was renamed Holden’s Motor Body Builders, becoming the exclusive supplier to American car manufacturer General Motors in Australia. In 1931, it merged with GM to become Australia’s first large-scale automotive manufacturing facility, General Motors-Holden’s Limited (GM-H). In the second world war years GM-H was mainly involved in producing car shells, artillery, aircraft, aeroplane and marine engines.

Towering picture of a holden sign with blue sky background

The last hurrah

During the post-war era, the most significant milestone for Holden was the revamping of its operations to industrialise its business into the first Australian mass-produced motor vehicle. For an interactive guide to post war Holden, take a look at this website showcasing 60 years of Holden vehicles.

The FJ Holden. New status symbol circa 1953. The second ever Holden yet it beat its predecessor ‘The FX’ (an economical family sedan) in the gallery of Holden fame. She was touted as truly something of a ‘beaut’. I imagine much like a breathtaking, mysterious Cinderella in chrome, stainless steel and came in a dual-tone paint (optional extra and apparently unique in the day), with the added plus of being custom-built for our Aussie road conditions and travel distances. Every man wanted her for glamour, prestige and as a family heirloom, endearing her to every new generation.

In 1958 Holden sales accounted for over 40% of the nation’s total car sales, including the start of exports in the 60’s to New Zealand, Africa, Middle East, South-East Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean.

So how did the clock strike midnight for Australia’s iconic car brand despite a staggering history of 150 years? What could’ve brought about, and how will each true blue Aussie deal with the demise of a real Australian institution? One that represents such an intrinsic part of our Australian vernacular (both on our roads and on our race tracks), next to our inexorable passion for sports and meat pies?

Alas, these lamentations are shared by close competitors Ford and Toyota whose cookies have similarly crumbled and each have proclaimed they too were forced by similar circumstances into abandoning local production.

A strong Aussie dollar, skyrocketing production and labour costs has injured export for Toyota and Holden especially, and everyone is competing to keep float in a domestic car market that’s just way too tiny, too darned competitive and fragmented.

Australia may be one of some 13 countries in the world with the ability to manufacture a vehicle from scratch, yet it has become one of the most expensive places in the world to do so. Government subsidies are no longer viable, and what’s more—the very same governments and their agencies seem to be withdrawing their support for buying locally manufactured vehicles judging between 87,000 Aussie-made cars in 1998 to a measly less than 14,000 in 2013 (data: Wheels, Mar 2014). That represents 84% less support for local car manufacturers in a span of 15 years.

Businesses have purchased 56% less locally-constructed vehicles such as the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, and private sales to Australian buyers fell by 35%. Even VFACTS figures reflect the shocking trend that governments had bought about thrice as many imported makes than Aussie-built models.

The lure to drive away an import has also been fuelled by the popularity of novated leasing which is a car financing option that has opened up a gamut of opportunities for employees to pick any car they prefer as long as they were able to service their car loan through their salary compensation.

Patriotism is more prevalent in the states that are still involved in car production such as in Victoria and South Australia, although there is clearly a huge shift away from acquiring locally-produced cars within government bodies.

Besides strong competition, it seems that sales of large vehicles have also been in the decline for years. For example, the Holden Commodore (affectionately known as ‘The ’Dore) which originally had been Australia’s best-selling car for 15 years up to 2010, stopped dominating the sales charts as more people shy away from the big rear-drive family car which Holden seems to specialise in so well. Now the newly-designed front-wheel drive Commodore is rumoured to be built in Asia—speculators are chiming “where else but China”.

While Australia will continue to be home to a local design studio for General Motors, there are huge implications when there is neither a unique Aussie slant nor compelling reason to keep Aussie buyers loyal to Holden. Holden vehicles of the future may not even be tuned for our rugged road conditions like it has been for forever.

There is speculation too that Holden may be re-badged to Chevrolet and it all comes down to the money—meaning a renaming could be a last-ditch public relations effort to disassociate Holden from the image of the slouching, left-jobless Aussie worker amid the shutdown of Holden factories.

Our unanimous support for a well-loved icon is dwindling. Depressing, isn’t it, when an Australian version of capitalism in the British-occupied years can no longer shield and protect such a vital industry. For centuries Australian car manufacturing had been one uniquely distinctive Australian means to grow and secure prosperity for future generations.

There was a time when owning a Holden was a proud Australian dream, a prized commodity that symbolised a nation’s growing prosperity and gallant masculinity. As we usher the end of the Holden era, we are witnesses to a new generation of young Aussies placing scarce value on ‘nationalism’. Factors such as styling and cost economy outweigh supporting locally made, rendering car consumption another exercise in expressing one’s unique personality, which is fickle. Digital connectivity today outranks acquiring a driving license, and youngsters are more apt to save the earth rather than a fledgling local car industry by expressing patriotism through supporting locally-made vehicles.

Gone shall be the days when starting up the Holden FXs, FJs, Commodores, Monaros, Toranas, Kingwoods and the like, had once been at the heart of every Australian Holden driver’s conviction to maintain employment and sustain communities. Today it no longer resonates in the Australian dream. These patriotic sentiments belong to a bygone era of industrial optimism, where car culture once communicated Australia’s national pride.

Despite the impending death knell facing car manufacturing in Australia, ‘Made-in-Australia-Holden’ is undoubtedly an emblem of our proudly Australian history and lifestyle that will soon only be fondly immortalised in museum galleries.

Like a popular jingle sung in an endearing Holden TV ad in the 1970s that featured a kitschy montage of the famous Aussie lifestyle stereotypes—the truth is, we do and probably shall always ‘love football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars’.

…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! Well then you better tell me again, cause I might just forget!
We love football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars!

Whether you’re thinking of driving away one of the last Australian-made Holdens, Toyotas or Fords under the southern stars while you still can, allow us to assist you at 360 Finance with car finance package that best meets your needs.