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Holden : company profile

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Holden is the Australian arm of General Motors, widely considered a national icon. In 2012, it celebrated the 65th anniversary of the development of the first all-Australian car, the Commodore sedan, a long-established champion which was Australia's top-selling passenger car until 2011. However times change, and although it remains one of Australia's best-known brands, Holden lost its position as the country's leading car manufacturer in 2003 to Toyota. Despite two years of record sales across the industry as a whole in 2015 and 2016, it has continued to lose share, slipping to 4th place in the latter year with sales of just 94k units, the lowest figure for decades. In 2017, Holden also brought to an end 100 years of local automobile manufacturing with the closure of its remaining Australian factory. GM took the decision to sell off its European subsidiary Opel in 2017, but has so far appeared to remain loyal to its Antipodean subsidiary. But for how much longer?

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Despite American ownership and a steady decline in sales, Holden is still regarded as something of a national treasure in Australia, mainly because its best-selling products have traditionally been conceived, designed and built locally. Yet fierce competition in the market as well as rising oil prices have put the nameplate under considerable pressure. So has the high cost of local manufacturing compared to imported vehicles. When it's a question of price, Toyota's low-price, low running-cost autos win out over national pride.

Holden lost its position as Australia's #1 vehicle manufacturer in 2003 as a result of competition from Toyota. In 2009, local vehicle sales slipped to a multi-year low of under 120,000 units. There was a modest recovery over the next couple of years, but the difficult conditions of 2012 contributed to another sharp decline, with unit sales for the year falling 9%. A further slip in 2013 took total volumes to 112,059 units, only a little more than half leader Toyota's sales, although Holden retained second place ahead of Mazda. In 2013, GM finally announced plans to end all local manufacturing of Holden vehicles by 2017. However the immediate result of that announcement was another sharp fall in sales, as local buyers reacted to the uncertainty over future service support. For 2015, researcher Focus2move reported sales at a new low below 103,000 units, pushing Holden into third place locally behind Mazda. Including exports, the group reported sales for 2015 of 116,971 units.

Holden's best-known model is the family sedan the Commodore, which was Australia's best-selling vehicle from 1995 to 2010. It was toppled in 2011 by the Mazda3, and has gradually slipped further down the ranking, falling to 5th place in 2014. Other Australian-designed models include top-selling luxury sedan the Caprice and Sportwagon estate. The company also imports and markets GM Daewoo's Cruze, its next best-selling model in 2014, and the Kalos, known here as the Barina. These models are sold in other global markets under the Chevrolet banner. Several models manufactured in Europe by GM's Opel subsidiary, most notably the Astra, were previously imported and rebadged to Holden. These were phased out in the late 2000s. Instead, GM launched the Opel brand for the first time locally in 2012 with the introduction of the new generation Astra, as well as the Corsa and Insignia models. Sales were tepid however, and the local Opel business was terminated less than a year later in summer 2013. The Astra was reintroduced in 2015 under the Holden banner, along with the Cascada convertible.

The company's trucks business suffered some turbulence following the termination of parent GM's relationship with Japanese manufacturer Isuzu. That led to the suspension of the Holden Rodeo truck, based on an Isuzu design. The model was redesigned and relaunched as the Colorado. The company also sells the smaller Ute pickup and Combo truck. The Colorado and Combo also featured among Australia's top 20 vehicles in 2014, alongside the Commodore and Cruze.

There used to also be a sizeable export market for Holden-manufactured cars. This exceeded 60,000 cars for the first time in 2005, but numbers have fallen dramatically since then to around 12,000 vehicles per year. Holden's main international markets were in the Middle East and other Asia Pacific countries.

Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) is a joint venture between Holden and British manufacturer TWR, producing a small range of high performance sports cars.

In an attempt to counter competition from Toyota and other manufacturers, Holden laid off more than 1,400 staff in 2005, and cut production by a quarter. After five consecutive years of losses totalling A$579m, Holden finally broke into profit in 2010, although it was helped considerably by a series of government grants to bolster production. The following two years saw some progress, but the group was back in the red in 2012 again after pushing through large impairment and restructuring charges as it announced further cuts in local manufacturing. Revenues slipped 7% to A$4.0bn, and the group reported a net loss of almost A$153m. That led to a decision to cease all local manufacturing by 2017.

Background

James Alexander Holden set up a saddle-making business in Adelaide, South Australia in 1856. For years, the company specialised in saddles for horses and later bicycles. By 1910, the company - then Holden & Frost - had developed its business to produce components for motorcycles, including sidecars. In 1914 Holden was commissioned to produce its first custom-made car body. As automobiles began to take off in Australia, the offers for car bodies increased rapidly. In 1924 the company opened Holden's Motor Body Builders (HMBB). In 1924, the company signed an exclusive contract to become the local car body supplier for General Motors, and opened a large new factory in Woodville, South Australia.

General Motors established its own manufacturing base in Australia in 1926, and five years later acquired HMBB, merging the two businesses. For the next 15 years General Motors-Holden manufactured a variety of GM cars designed and developed by Vauxhall in the UK, Opel in Germany or at GM's Detroit base. There was a brief distraction during World War II when the factory turned its hand to engines, airplanes and even torpedoes.

In 1945, the Australian Federal Government invited manufacturers to submit proposal for the design of "Australia's Own Car", the first model to be designed and built domestically. General Motors-Holden took the brief, unveiling the Holden 48-215 three years later. The car was a huge success with consumers, and demand far outstripped supply. Within five years the company had sold over 100,000 cars, and the Holden became a national institution. A series of updated models were introduced during the 1950s, and in the 1960s the company introduced the smaller Holden Torana and HK Monaro sports coupe. In 1978, the company unveiled an even more popular model, the Commodore. In 1988, Holden Special Vehicles was established as a joint venture with TWR to make limited edition motorsports models for the Australian market. In 1996 the company finally shortened its name from General Motors-Holden to simply Holden. The same year, the Commodore became Australia's most popular car, a position it held for the next 15 years.

Last full revision 27th July 2015

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