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Why Australia’s once-favourite car manufacturer died

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Here’s why the roaring lion could not sustain its 160-year association with Australia.

Holden is dead, and in a few decades so too will be the motorists who can remember a time where every second driveway had a locally-built car sitting in it.

From family car trips in a rusting 1970s Kingswood station wagon, to teenage excursions in a second-hand Commodore, the history of Holden is indelibly ingrained in Australian history.

But all the nostalgia in the world was not enough to save Holden from the bold financial gamble it made after the Global Financial Crisis: pouring all of its resources into creating large sedans.

READ MORE: Holden axed from Australia by 2021

As the car-buying public shifted towards SUVs and dual-cab utes for family duties – or micro Japanese city cars for urban trips – Holden persisted with its large, comfortable sedan-based Commodore.

The last Australian iteration, the VF Commodore, was a beautiful car: with a powerful LS3 engine, bi-modal exhaust and class-leading interior, it was truly the best of Australian engineering.

But other than the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts, it wasn't what the market wanted.

READ MORE: How a $350 HR Premier is worth a house deposit now

Mothers of school-aged children, who so often control the family budget, wanted ride height as it gave a greater sense of safety – so much so that SUV sales soared through the roof.

Tradies, once the backbone of Holden's sales thanks to a long history of performance utes and wagons, turned to hulking dual-cab utes.

The truck-like Toyota HiLux has been the best-selling new car in the country for the last decade.

Mini Holden 1967

In second place, it's Ford's Ranger, also a dual-cab utility.

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No large sedan from any manufacturer sits within Australia's top-selling new vehicles.

When General Motors decided that Holden could no longer build vehicles in Australia due to the high cost of labour, the death knell on Holden's future was sounded.

Holden axes the Commodore

Years earlier, after the GFC of 2007-2008, the Federal Government was desperate to keep the lion roaring.

In the 12 years since 2000, the government gave Holden $2.17 billion in Federal subsidies as it scrambled to keep Australian car workers in a job.

But it wasn't enough.

In 2017, at Holden's Elizabeth plant in Adelaide, the last Australian-made VF Commodore rolled off the line.

To replace it, Holden imported a re-badged Opel Insignia from Germany and called it a Commodore – and the Australian public appeared to hate it.

1966 commercial for Holden HR Special Sedan

In 2019, Holden sold just 43,176 new vehicles, the lowest since 1954. In 2019, Toyota sold more than 47,000 HiLuxs – more than Holden's entire line up with just one model.

In 1998, at the peak of Holden's power, Australians bought 94,682 new Commodores, even though the average yearly wage was just over $42,000.

Many people will take cheap shots on Holden's demise – commenting on squeaky dashboards, the brand's affinity with "bogan" consumers and its failure to cash in on the SUV boom – but the fact is its parent company General Motors is the one calling the shots.

Last Holden Commodore (AAP)

For GM, Holden is not the centre of its world.

Currently, GM makes right hand drive vehicles for Thailand, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

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It is not competitive in these markets, and therefore is cutting one part of the Australian dream: to have a house in the suburbs with a backyard and a Holden wagon in the driveway.

Source: 9News

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