Holden, a (sort-of) Australian icon, succumbs to globalisation

Feb 20, 2020

“SHE’S A BEAUTY!” grinned the prime minister of the day, Ben Chifley, as the first car built entirely in Australia rolled off the assembly line in 1948. The Holden FX, as it was known, was greeted as a totem of a young nation joining the ranks of industrialised economies. Better yet, it had an Australian pedigree, even if General Motors owned the factory. Holden had been a saddle-making firm in Adelaide that began to manufacture car bodies to go with imported engines and chassis in 1919. GM bought it in 1931, but retained the brand. For a long time its advertising slogan was “People Trust Holden”. So when GM announced this week that it was eliminating the brand, indignation and nostalgia abounded.

Scott Morrison, the prime minister, scolded GM for allowing Holden to “wither away” even though “Australian taxpayers put millions into this multinational company.” Unions blamed his government for slashing the subsidies which might have kept Holden sputtering on. The government is so devoutly free-market that it will “not lift a finger” to protect Australian jobs, grumbled Sally McManus of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

GM says it cannot justify further investment in a long-unprofitable business. Although Holden made almost half of all new cars sold in Australia in the late 1950s, locals nowadays prefer nippier...

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