Holden Are Barely Holden On (Actually, They’re Not)

Why let the facts get in the way of a good headline? Holden are not holding on at all. The company has slipped down the sales table again and the slow downward spiral has the automotive community in Australia transfixed.

Holden used to fight with Ford for the top of the sales table in Australia until Ford left the fight for good. A decade or so ago, Holden was overtaken by Toyota for the #1 sales position, which Toyota has never relinquished since.

Last year, Holden was overtaken by Mazda as the #2 seller in Australia. We were stunned.

In February 2013, Holden was punted from the Australian Top 3 for the first time in its 65 year history, thanks to Nissan. Holden blamed a computer error for that one (seriously).

Today it has been revealed that Holden were overtaken by Hyundai in monthly sales for March – and Nissan beat them again, too, placing Holden in 5th position on the sales table with market-share continuing to plummet. This month, Holden are blaming the strong Australian dollar (fair) and the Japanese government (fuzzy, at best).

In a pre-emptive strike on the currency issue, Holden popped up in the news yesterday for having been the recipient of more than $2billion in government funding and tax breaks over the last 12 years. That’s more than $2,000 per car built. Holden’s argument is that it couldn’t continue to build cars here without the taxpayer subsidies, citing the dollar and the alleged Japanese government’s manipulation of the Yen as cases in point (so THAT’s why those Japanese cars sell so well here, not quality).

There’s been plenty of chatter here in Australia over the last few years about whether our tiny car manufacturing industry is worth propping up. We give assistance to Toyota and Ford, as well as Holden. With two of the three manufacturers we give assistance to tumbling down the sales charts, the chatter is only going to get louder.

Holden were once revered as The Australian Car Company, building cars in Australia that were suited to Australian conditions. The truth is that they stopped being an Australian car company many years ago and compounded their loss of reputation with poor quality Korean-sourced cars, several of which being cynically marketed and short-lived as a result. Any Aussies still own a Holden Viva?

Australians till take some pride in Holden’s design and engineering arms. The Camaro and Holden’s V8 racing success being the most obvious examples. But even those lack some relevance as the Camaro isn’t sold here and people take their eyes off family V8’s in increasing numbers.

Holden on?

Barely.

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16 Comments

  1. What I wonder, as someone who doesn’t know a single thing about the Australian car market and its sentiment: would you feel it’s a loss if they end up on the bottom of that downards spiral? Or is it more a ‘meh’ kind of moment?

    1. IF that happens, I think it would be a profoundly sad moment. My first three cars were Holdens and I have a cousin who works at Ford here in Australia. I’d love to see these companies continue here.

      I can’t help but see Holden as another example of GM shooting itself in the foot. I know that times are really hard for manufacturing companies here in Australia. That’s not news. But Holden’s decline is a long-term affair and it’s amazing how other companies have been able to meet changing markets where Holden has just served up junk time and time again.

      When the car market went small, Toyota served up a series of excellent Corollas and Holden went Korean and served up junk. The Barina was the only real sustained success. The Astra went OK until they made the bone-headed decision of cancelling it a few years ago (to be replaced by Korean junk and then – amazingly – being brought back to Australia last year as a premium vehicle from Opel). What a way to kill your company: take away a decent seller then reintroduce it as a competitor.

      When the car market moved from large sedans to small SUV’s, Toyota already had the RAV4 and then added the Kluger. Holden has the Captiva, which like many GM cars has a design that interests you for 5 minutes before it dates and the less-than-stellar quality kicks in.

      Holden’s soul now lies strictly in performance V8’s. Once they go, the company that we knew is pretty much dead. That’ll be a sad time.

      1. Have to agree about the failure of the Korean experiment. When people started looking for something other than the Commodore, Holden offered them junk, hence the success of Mazda, Hyundai and Kia. Badge engineering at its worst by Holden I’m afraid. Wonder if the genius who came up with the Korean experiment is still there?

  2. Holden have lost their sales ranking for a few reasons, I believe. Firstly, the dinosaur that is the Commodore. There is a crowd that hail it as the most Australian thing on four wheels, and they’re mostly right – but it’s big, thirsty and unsophisticated, and people clearly don’t want that any more.

    Secondly, Daewoo. They gave up their spot to Mazda because the 3 and 6 are ripping vehicles. The Astra and the Insignia would have held up against them, but instead they offer us cheap tripe from the pacific rim.

    The world is a different place these days. People no longer shop with price is their primary consideration (although with the current global financial issues that way well change). They want quality first. Apple are the star child of this. They offer a premium product at a premium price, and don’t fight for the bottom-of-the-barrel sales. People flock there in droves. You don’t become the worlds most valuable company for nothing.

    When Holden (and Ford to an even greater degree) stop manufacturing cheap rubbish and make us a quality vehicle, with some decent technology (not a 50-odd year old pig iron straight-six – I’m looking at you, Geelong) that people might actually want to buy – THEN they will survive. If they keep making the same old thing, then they’ll soon find themselves in the Centrelink queue.

  3. Whilst Daewoos nowadays get badged as Chevrolets in most places and sold as a cheaper GM brand, Holden has tried to offer those Chevrolet models as mainstream Holdens and the success has been somewhat limited. The Cruze has been moderately successful but perhaps if Holden had continued selling the Astra it would have had better sales figures? Instead you have to buy an Astra from Opel Australia.

    1. Interesting to hear that the Holden Cruze is seen as a lower quality car than the Opel Astra in Australia. Over here in Europe the Cruze is giving the Astra a hard time, because it gives you the same kind of car for less money.

      Chevrolet/Daewoo and the rebadged Holdens have been low quality cars in the past, but currently the Cruze/Malibu/Impala are as good as a GM car can be and besides the looks are imho on par with any Opel.

    2. The Astra was priced out of the market in Australia, just like the Barina. Customers just wouldn’t / couldn’t see the forest for the trees and preferred to buy Korean.Opel to me seems a failure in Australia. I have not seen one on the road, drive past a customer empty dealership daily. Sales figures look good, but look on carsales and there’s over 600 for sale, suggesting fake DEMO sales. Too many brands in Australia, and they keep coming.

  4. I think Holden’s history as “The Australian Car” has really hurt GM since, I’d say since 1975 (that’s when they started selling the Gemini). I’ve got to say that in the 1980s, I spent quite a lot of time in Australia and, truth be told, the Commodore was a far better car then than anything GM were selling the US.

    Fast forward though and I think the idea of Holden as “The Australian Car” has really caused GM to make some heady missteps. The problem, as I see it, with selling various Opels and Daewoos as Holdens wasn’t the cars themselves. The cars were perfectly acceptable for what they were and how they were priced. The problem is that they didn’t meet the collective expectation of what a Holden ought to be. And it’s not a new problem. The Gemini (an Isuzu) wasn’t a proper Holden either.

    I know you dogged them for bringing back the Astra badged as an Opel, but, truthfully, it ought to have come in as one from day one. Use the Opel brand for European based products. Use the Chevrolet brand for cheap Korean products (as it’s being used everywhere except the Americas). Save Holden for “Australian Cars” and premium trucks/SUVs. GM may have axed brands like Saturn, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Hummer, but they still invented the idea of stepped branding and there’s no reason they can’t make it work in Australia.

  5. This is my view from the other side of the world. If you look at the top 3 car companies two of them with international branding and one (GM) still has many local brands. Those local brands have two problems they have to fight to. On the one side the have to be more than re-badged cars, so people see those cars as true (Holden, in this case) on the other side they are limited to a local market.

    GM has to decide in the next 5 Years or so how will it handle those local brands (Opel, Vauxhall, Holden, Daewoo). My opinion is that GM should kill all of them and create a new international Cadillac/Buick/Chevrolet brand strategy, still with some local models (Suburbans in the US, UTE’s in Oz). Why? Because the current Holden line-up is quite weird. Most of it are rebadged RHD Chevrolets but you can also find some real Holdens, so it doesn’t feel like a Holden is a real brand, but a way to sell any GM car in Australia, as long as you put a lion on the hood of the car, the car will sell in Oz and NZ.

    This may be a too harsh change for many, but sooner or later Opel or Holden will sell too few cars, and what’s next?

    On the other side if the brand Holden disappears, will the GM facilities move out of Australia? No, I don’t think so. And here is where people should change their minds. Maybe working at the VW plant in Chattanooga is more sexy than working at the GM plant in Elizabeth.

    BTW, Saab would have had the same problem if it would still be a brand in the GM portfolio. And sooner or later it would have disappeared as either a recognizable car or as a brand at all under GM.

  6. I think this is a case of the GM problem here in many ways. Too many brands, not enough focus. I think that’s what you’re saying, too. The Australian market isn’t big enough for Holden, Deawoo and Opel to coexist. Holden, Deawoo and Opel need to die as brands and be reborn as a single brand in Oz.

    If they can kill Oldsmobile (the oldest GM brand), Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab in the US, surely it needs to happen in Australia.

    PS – I hate Camaros. I always have. The new one didn’t help.

    1. I actually disagree (see my post). I think the problem is selling them via distinct dealerships. Sold collectively from a single sales point, but with different brands might well be the ticket.

      I do believe though, that, as in the US, there are quite a few legacy Holden dealers that GM would prefer not to have anymore. Giving Opel deals outside of existing Holden dealers might just be their way of helping that along.

    2. One thing to note is that Daewoo aren’t a distinct brand here anymore. They design and make cars that are badged as Holdens.

      So as far as GM’s marketing is concerned, we’ve got Holden and Opel. There’s talk once again of Cadillac coming, too, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

    1. To be fair to GM, Holden, as a car company, has really never existed outside of being part of GM. Before being purchased by GM, they made a few car bodies, but weren’t an automaker by any stretch. It’s only after WWII and only as part of GM that Holden produced complete vehicles.

  7. GM are slow learners, just read an australian review of the opel insignia opc and the main grip was opel australia will not offer a manual transmission option…. would like to know what holden did with the federal government handouts?

  8. It looks like GM Australia is going through the same process that other GM markets already know well:

    Loss of market share to “foreign” competitors
    Loss of brand equity with younger buyers
    Inability to transfer market dominance in large cars onto smaller cars
    Lack of “premium” status

    The answer is simple enough: don’t rely on yesterday’s market share. Build the cars that people want, and don’t try to sell them like it’s 1960.

    Here’s a short summary of every GM franchise in every market since 1970 or so:

    The market says: “Make me a Camry, that’s what I want.”
    GM looks at the Camry and thinks “We can build this cheaper if we use an antiquated drivetrain and lower-quality materials.”
    Market says: “What is this junk you’re trying to sell me? I said I wanted a Camry.”
    GM: “How about if I slap some chrome on it and call it a Buick?”
    Market: “I’ll just get a Camry.”

    Repeat every four years until your market share is completely gone.

    The solution is fairly simple (build a better car), but it could take years to re-establish brand credibility with younger buyers.

    Option #2, of course, is to convince Australian hipsters to buy Commodores ironically. Enforce mandatory moustaches and polyester double-knit on the sales floor, and see if it works.

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