General Motors will retire iconic Australian motor brand Holden by 2021, ceasing all sales, design and engineering operations as it looks to a future of electric and autonomous mobility.
“This is tough day for the Holden family,” said interim chairman and managing director Kristian Aquilina for GM Holden’s operations in Australia during a media conference regarding the shutdown.
Citing “challenging circumstances” and “multiple discussions” with General Motors head office in the US, Aquilina said that the decision to shut down all Holden operations in Australia was an “inescapable reality”.
“We’ve had multiple rounds of discussions,” said Aquilina.
“The truth, the hard truth, is that there was no way to come up with a plan to support a growing and competitive Holden brand and sufficient return to our investors,” he said.
Holden has done it tough in recent years. Sales have flagged since the closure of its local car manufacturing plant in 2017 to the extent that annual reporting for 2019 showed it had sold the smallest number of vehicles since 1954.
In December, the step down of ex-Toyota executive and Holden boss Dave Buttner was followed closely by the announcement that the brand would discontinue the longtime favourite Commodore range and would focus on SUVs and utes.
GM International Operations Senior Vice President Julian Blissett said in the conference that “agonising decision” made after considering “numerous options for continuing operations” simply came down to the fact that Holden could no longer provide “appropriate level of return on investment” for GM.
The truth of the matter, it would seem, is that the cost of GM keeping up with the transition to electric mobility inevitable means it must prune what has become a dead branch – a fact that was made clear in a statement from GM boss Mary Barra.
“I’ve often said that we will do the right thing, even when it’s hard, and this is one of those times,” said Barra in a statement regarding the shutdown.
“We are restructuring our international operations, focusing on markets where we have the right strategies to drive robust returns, and prioritizing global investments that will drive growth in the future of mobility, especially in the areas of EVs and AVs.”
General Motors, like other auto giants on a global scale, is increasingly making commitments to a transition to electric and autonomous vehicles.
In November 2018 it announced it would sacrifice five internal combustion engine vehicle factories and slash staff to cut costs in an effort to fund a transition to electric mobility.
For a while, it looked as if Australia – if not Holden itself – would remain a part of this plan. In July 2018 it had advertised for 150 engineers to accelerate development of autonomous technology and electric vehicles at the company’s Port Melbourne facility.
Now, both Holden’s Port Melbourne facility and its Lang Lang proving ground will both be subjected to closure, with 600 staff to lose jobs by June 2021 and another 200 to remain in ongoing roles to service owners of the 1.6 million Holden vehicles on the road.
GM said that there may be a future for the American brand in Australia but declined to give further details, saying that details were still under discussion.
Servicing, parts and maintenance operations will continue in Australia for at least 10 more years.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.