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Holden exit: Production finally ends after 69 years

Over and out: Some Holden manufacturing employees marking the final day of production at the Elizabeth plant today.

End of an era as Holden shuts Elizabeth plant and Australian car manufacturing ends

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Holden logo20 Oct 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON

HOLDEN today drew the curtain on nearly 70 years of Australian manufacturing with the closure of its Elizabeth plant, effectively bringing to an end the local automotive mass manufacturing industry.

At 10:45am Adelaide time, the final Commodore rolled off the production line at Elizabeth in the South Australian capital’s north, 69 years after the first Holden 48-215 was produced at the car-maker’s Port Melbourne factory on November 29, 1948.

Holden said in a statement that it held a private ceremony for its employees to mark the closure and to “pay tribute to the generations of hard-working men and women who literally built the Holden legend”.

The final vehicle to roll off the line at Elizabeth was a VFII Commodore SS-V Redline manual sedan with a ‘Red Hot’ paint job that would usually retail for $54,990 plus on-road costs.

Holden will retain the final four vehicles built at Elizabeth as part of its heritage collection.

The other three vehicles were a Caprice V V8 automatic sedan painted in ‘Switchblade’, a V6 Calais automatic Sportwagon in ‘Son of a Gun’ and a V8 automatic SS Ute in ‘Light My Fire’.

Holden raised more than $800,000 for charity last weekend when it auctioned off three of the last Australian-built Commodores as part of its Dream Cruise event in Elizabeth.

After the factory closure, Holden will continue to employ about 1000 staff at its Melbourne headquarters and state offices with a further 6000 people employed through the company’s 200-strong dealer network.

About 350 people will be employed in Holden’s design and engineering departments, working on projects such as the localisation program that tunes new models to Australian conditions, as well as global programs.

The GM Global Design Centre will continue to be housed at the company’s Port Melbourne headquarters, parts of which will be sub-divided, while Holden will retain its Lang Lang proving ground south of Melbourne. The Elizabeth site will be sold to a property developer and turned into a business hub.

Today marks the final day of work at Holden for 945 employees with 800 having finished up since the car-maker announced in December 2013 that it would close its manufacturing operations in Australia.

Holden says the employee transition centre at Elizabeth will stay open for at least two years following the closure of the factory “to ensure all Holden and supply chain employees have the best possible chance to successfully transition”.

It is believed that the decommissioning of the Elizabeth site, which started operations in January 1963, will take about 18 months.

Production ended at the Port Melbourne engine plant in November last year, and production of the Cruze small car at Elizabeth ceased on October 7 last year, the same day Ford Australia closed its production facilities.

Holden chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard said the company’s priority since it announced it was closing its factories was to ensure a smooth transition for employees.

“Treating our people with dignity and respect was always our number one priority during this transition and we’re all proud we were able to achieve that, we see it as recognition of their dedicated service over the years,” he said. “With 85 per cent of all workers to date successfully transitioning, we’ve worked closely with our people to support them.

“Holden also appreciates the partnership and assistance of the state and federal governments, along with the unions, over many years.

“Right after supporting our people comes ensuring we set Holden up for success for many years to come. The best way we can honour our people and our heritage is by building a successful future and that’s exactly what we’ll be focused on when Monday rolls around.

“Today, however, is about paying tribute to the generations of men and women across Holden and our supply network who have given so much to our company.

Holden is the icon it is today only because of these passionate people. On behalf of everyone at Holden, I thank you for your service from the bottom of my heart.”

In total, Holden has built 7,687,675 vehicles in Australia between 1948 and 2017, and in its highest production year, 2005, the company built 153,026 VZ Commodores.

Holden built more VE Commodores than any other model it has produced, with 520,000 rolling off the line, followed by the HQ Kingswood from 1971 with 485,650 and then the VT Commodore of 1997 with 303,895 units.

Its export program, which saw Statesmans and Commodores sent to a total of 10 countries in the Middle East and North and South America, peaked in 2005 with 60,518 units.

Holden’s highest market share was recorded in 1958 when it had a 50.3 per cent stake of the market. So far in 2017 it is sitting on a share of 7.0 per cent.

The car-maker has already kicked off its new product onslaught that will see it launch 24 new models by 2020 with a focus on expanding its SUV line-up.

So far it has launched the Astra hatch and sedan, updated Colorado and Trailblazer, new Spark and the facelifted Barina and Trax.

Next up will be the all-important Equinox mid-size SUV that ill be sourced from North America that will compete with the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4.

This will be followed by the next-generation Opel Insignia-based Commodore that will be built in Germany and mark the first time the nameplate is imported and offered in front-wheel-drive configuration.

The Astra wagon, Acadia seven-seat large SUV and a long speculated V8 sportscar – now widely believed to be the Chevrolet Camaro – will follow.

Holden’s product plan beyond this roll out became unclear when General Motors sold its European Opel and Vauxhall brands to PSA Group which owns Peugeot and Citroen.

The new Astra and next-gen Commodore will continue to be sourced from Opel, but what Holden will do for its small and mid-size/large passenger car range after the model lifecycles end is uncertain.

Holden – like its GM parent company – has started to reposition itself as a mobility company, launching the Maven car-sharing and ride-sharing operation in Australia, as well as the advanced OnStar driver assistance technology suite The company is also believed to be evaluating its electric vehicle strategy in a bid to determine how to commence a roll out in Australia in the coming years.

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