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Government, industry react to Holden exit

Officials, industry bodies bemoan the departure of Holden as GM brings hammer down

18 Feb 2020

SENIOR politicians from prime minister Scott Morrison down have joined in the chorus of deep sadness, disappointment and, in some cases, anger expressed by elected officials, unions, industry representatives and even arch-rival Ford at General Motors’ decision to stop selling Holden cars in Australia by the end of this year. 


The prime minister was particularly scathing, slamming the American auto giant for allowing the historic Holden brand to “just wither away on their watch”.


“I’m disappointed, but not surprised, but I am angry like I think many Australians would be,” he said.


“Australian taxpayers put billions into this, into this multinational company and they let the brand just wither away on their watch. And now they’re leaving it behind. 


“And I think that’s very disappointing, that over many years, more than $2 billion, I understand, was directly provided to General Motors for the Holden operations.”


Federal trade minister Karen Andrews was also scathing of the brand, claiming Holden was “walking away from Australia after billions in support from successive governments” and adding that she will hold GM to its promise of assisting workers and dealers impacted by the closure. 


Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese took to Twitter to farewell Holden, posting a picture of an advertisement for a VL Commodore while stating it is the end of an era, with many Australians able to claim Holden being “part of their family story”.


Mr Albanese also levelled blame at the Coalition for the departure, pointing to comments made in 2013 by then treasurer Joe Hockey who urged GM Holden’s then managing director Mike Devereux to  “come clean with the Australian people about their intentions here”, when seeking clarification from the company on whether it will remain a long-term manufacturing presence in Australia, adding, “either you’re here or you’re not”.


The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) was equally as critical of the Coalition, accusing the Morrison government of “rank hypocrisy” for showing disappointment in GM shutting down Holden.


The AMWU used social media outlets to say the federal government should “hang their heads in shame” for overseeing the wind-down of local manufacturing.


Former Labor senator and trade unionist Doug Cameron was even stronger in his condemnation of the Coalition, describing Mr Morrison’s comments on Holden’s departure as “disgusting”.


“It was the economic stupidity of the Coalition that drove the car industry out of Australia,” he said. 


“Hi-tech, high-skilled jobs, good pay trashed by their ideological obsession to make us a farm, quarry and tourist destination.”


Holden’s 200-strong dealers are also now preparing to close their showrooms, but have the option of continuing as service centres for existing Holden vehicles.


Australian Automotive Dealer Association (AADA) CEO James Voortman said the announcement was devastating for Holden retailers across the nation.


“This news will come as a hammer blow to Australia’s 200 Holden dealers, their employees and their customers,” he said.


“Holden is an iconic Australian brand with one of the biggest dealer networks in the country and the social and economic effect of this development should not be underestimated.”


Mr Voortman added that it was crucial that the dealers were supported and compensated for their years of service to the lion brand.


The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) has also reacted to Holden’s departure, with director of communications and emerging technologies Lenore Fletcher pointing to the competitive nature of the local automotive industry as a reason for Holden’s decline. 


“If you look at the market itself we’ve got a very competitive market, we have as you know 68 brands, 380 models all fighting over 1.1 million cars,” Ms Fletcher told GoAuto.


“That is a lot of competition and is very good news for consumers as well. At the same time we’ve seen 22 consecutive months of negative growth, and obviously it is a very, very tough market to be in at the moment. 


“From the FCAI point of view, it is obviously very, very sad to see Australia lose one of its iconic brands.”


Even key rival Ford took to Twitter to post a farewell to the brand that went toe-to-toe with the Blue Oval both on the racetrack with V8 Supercars and in the showroom with its locally made Falcon.


“All of us here at Ford Australia are saddened to hear the news that Holden will cease operations,” the company said. 


“Holden is an iconic brand that holds a special place in the heart of many Australians, and has done so much to shape the Australian automotive industry and the country.


“To our friends at Holden, thank you for keeping us on our toes and inspiring us to keep aiming higher. We will miss you.”


Holden sales had been in freefall in recent years, the one-time market leader only just managing to sneak into the list of top 10 brands last year with 43,176 sales (the lowest in the company’s history). 


This represented a 28.9 per cent slide over its 2018 figure of 60,751 sales, which itself was down 32.7 per cent over the 90,306 it managed in 2017, the last year of the Aussie Commodore.


The bad news continued in December with the announcement that the imported Commodore and Astra models would be culled from the range.


Holden’s best year for overall sales came in 2002, when it registered 178,392 units, with 102,269 of those made up of the Commodore and Commodore ute.


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